Appropriators to take up veterans, homeland security measures

The House Appropriations Committee plans to report the first four fiscal 2008 spending bills to the floor next week, totaling $160 billion in spending on a broad array of programs including homeland security, veterans' health, military housing, natural resources and the environment, nuclear programs, renewable fuels research and water projects.

In particular, the veterans and homeland security bills are widely popular with both parties, but taken together the four bills breach President Bush's request by $9 billion. Office of Management and Budget Director Rob Portman last week reiterated his threat to recommend that Bush veto fiscal 2008 spending bills if they exceed his overall $932.8 billion request.

House Democrats are clearly on pace to do so, having allotted about $21 billion extra above that figure in the budget resolution.

The four bills under consideration this week by the full committee individually violate Bush's spending requests for Appropriations subcommittees, and the $64.7 billion Military Construction-Veterans Affairs bill represents nearly half the total increase -- $4 billion above Bush's request.

That represents a $15 billion increase over the current fiscal year, or about 30 percent for programs impacting veterans and military families.

"I'd rather not" recommend a veto, Portman said, but he said Bush's budget calls for a 22 percent increase over the current year and that Republicans since 2001 have increased the veterans' health budget by around 80 percent.

Appropriations Chairman David Obey, D-Wis., recently noted the difference between Bush and Democrats overall on non-defense discretionary spending amounted to about 2 percent, calling that figure "the difference between [Bush] being president and being king."

House GOP conservatives are circulating a letter aiming to obtain the necessary 146 signatures proving Bush will have the votes to sustain a veto on spending bills.

At the end of last week they were close to hitting that target, and Portman lauded the House Republican Study Committee Chairman, Rep. Jeb Hensarling of Texas, for orchestrating the effort.

In a sign they are headed for success, even some GOP members of the House Appropriations Committee -- including ranking member Jerry Lewis, R-Calif., Legislative Branch Subcommittee ranking member Zach Wamp, R-Tenn., and Reps. Ray LaHood of Illinois and Ken Calvert of California -- have signed the conservatives' letter.

But GOP sources acknowledge they could lose support for sustaining a veto depending on the nature of the underlying bill.

Portman acknowledged the White House and Congress are on a collision course over spending, chalking it up to honest differences in philosophy. He said the two sides would eventually agree on a framework for spending bills Bush can sign.

"Chairman Obey and others think there should be more resources devoted to these, so we have a disagreement. But it's not that we're not talking," Portman told reporters. "I'm not saying this will be easy, it never is.... we always have these appropriations differences," including when Republicans controlled Congress.

In addition to the four bills going before the full Appropriations Committee, four subcommittees will also take up their fiscal 2008 bills.

Those are the State-Foreign Operations, Financial Services, Legislative Branch and Labor-Health and Human Services bills.

The Senate Appropriations Committee will not begin taking up its spending bills until June 14.

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