There are over seventy House members in the Out of Iraq Caucus and there are 48 members of the Blue Dog Coalition. They aren’t totally aligned against each other, as several members of the Blue Dog coalition are strong critics of the Iraq War and support tying timelines to any supplemental funding bill. But, in general, these two blocs are creating a headache for the leadership. What’s the problem?
The Democrats want to push through an economic stimulus plan and an Iraq War supplemental funding bill. But they don’t have enough money. Congress normally operates under a PAYGO rule, which means any new spending must be paid for with either offsetting cuts or new taxes. But Iraq War funding is exempt from the PAYGO rule. This makes it attractive to attach new domestic spending (stimulus) to the Iraq War funding as a way to get around the PAYGO rule. The Blue Dogs hate this idea because they don’t want to vote for new non-war related deficit spending. The Out of Iraq Caucus hates this because they don’t want to vote for a supplemental war funding bill that has no timelines, but they also don’t want to vote against a stimulus package.
But, if the leadership ties the two together they will force both groups to make very painful decisions. Will anti-war Democrats vote against helping out their struggling constituents? Will Blue Dogs vote against funding the war? And, yet, there is always the challenge of getting Republicans to support the stimulus package. Will they support it if it isn’t tied to the war funding bill? How will they abide by the PAYGO rules if the stimulus bill isn’t exempt?
This morning you can see the handwringing in articles at Roll Call, The Hill, and CQ Politics. For now, it looks like the House is not going to (completely) combine the bills, but that might not hold when they get over to the Senate.
Liberal Democrats in the House were likely pleased to hear that the supplemental would not be combined with any stimulus. They were worried that Democratic leaders would try to make them choose between voting to end the war and helping out people hit by the economic downturn.
“We don’t want the supplemental and the stimulus combined in any way,” said Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.). “We want the issues separated.”
But liberals also think the stimulus should be brought up first — taking care of the economy before taking care of Iraq. If, as Hoyer said, the supplemental bill could be on the floor late next week, there’s little time to get the stimulus done first.
Waters said she is concerned about “rumors” she has heard that leaders may keep the bills separate on the House side, but combine them on the Senate side.
But, according to Roll Call, there may be some combination even in the House.
Hoyer did not elaborate on how much money in domestic spending Democrats are mulling attaching to the measure, saying only that they are still in discussions.
Another provision “certainly under consideration” is including funds for military operations for 2008 and part of 2009, Hoyer said. The move would allow lawmakers to keep the war funded into the next president’s term.
The Majority Leader has also said some portion of the war bill will address domestic issues. In addition, Hoyer hinted that the measure could be followed by a second economic stimulus package being worked on now by Democrats.
But those are the only concrete details that Democrats are offering about a key measure that has powerful political implications during an election year.
After a series of meetings this week, House Democratic leaders are staying tight-lipped on their plan for proceeding, if there is one yet.
Emerging from a bicameral Democratic Caucus on Tuesday, House Rules Chairwoman Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) said there’s a “lot of consternation” over how to pay for provisions in the bill.
We are talking about $108 billion dollars of war funding here. Exempt from PAYGO or not, we don’t have that kind of money to be throwing into the futile cause in Iraq. And, in any case, if the Democrats try to help regular folks out by larding up the war funding bill with domestic spending, the president might veto it.
Last week White House Budget Director Jim Nussle told Senate appropriators that a “clean” supplemental is needed by Memorial Day and that Democrats should save their domestic priorities for the regular appropriations process rather than provoke a veto fight that would delay its enactment.
The senators brushed aside that suggestion and said they are eyeing the supplemental as a vehicle for spending on domestic priorities such as law enforcement grants and infrastructure spending.
Reading between the lines, I think Maxine Waters is probably correct. The Senate will find it necessary to combine the bills in order to get the 60 votes they need to pass a stimulus package. However, they’ll need 67 votes to override a veto, and therefore it looks like a trainwreck awaits us in the not too distant future.