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More than the war rides on funding bill

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KAI RYSSDAL: A hundred and twenty-four billion dollars is the amount we’re talking about. Most of it’s for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Everybody knows Congress and the White House are going to have to work something out. But Marketplace’s John Dimsdale reports it’s not just the Pentagon that’s interested in making sure a deal gets done.

JOHN DIMSDALE: As he wrapped up Senate debate on the emergency spending bill, Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid said Congress has added money to the White House request for veterans’ health care.

HARRY REID: We provide for our troops. But we believe we have an obligation to address emergencies facing Americans here at home also.

The bill headed for the president’s desk has an extra $21 billion — for storm repairs in the Gulf of Mexico, drought relief for farmers, Medicaid reimbursement for doctors and hospitals and funding for children’s health insurance.

Worthy programs, says Steve Ellis at Taxpayers for Common Sense, but not emergencies.

STEVE ELLIS: What happens is Congress sees these emergency spending bills as free money. Because they don’t count against the budget cap that they’ve established. And so they end up getting larded up with a lot of other extraneous provisions to try to move it through the process.

Congress has trimmed some of the extra spending. Gone is a hundred million dollars for next summer’s presidential conventions and $20 million to fight the Mormon cricket infestation. The bill headed for a veto also raises the minimum wage and gives small businesses $5 billion in tax breaks.

The political stalemate will delay war funding for at least several weeks. Military leaders have been careful not to issue ultimatums on when money will run out.

Congressional appropriators say the Pentagon has enough to keep the war going through June. Both the White House and Democratic congressional leaders promise quick post-veto negotiations to find a compromise.

In Washington, I’m John Dimsdale for Marketplace.

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