Security-related spending bills are likely to take priority

House Majority Leader Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said Thursday he plans to pass security-related appropriations bills before the November election, as House Democratic leaders continue to struggle with the decision over whether to pursue a fiscal 2011 budget resolution.

Hoyer said that he has been discussing the fiscal 2011 appropriations process with House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., and the possibility of passing the security-related bills before the midterms.

"Mr. Obey and I have been talking about [appropriations] and, in fact, those that will be a priority will be bills related to security," Hoyer said.

Hoyer did not specify, but he is likely looking at the annual Defense, Homeland Security and Military Construction-VA spending bills.

His comments came as Republicans, lobbyists and budget experts have questioned whether House Democratic leaders would consider any of the 12 annual spending bills before the election.

"It's been clear that this was going to be a difficult year for appropriations in any case," said Jim Horney, who was deputy Democratic staff director on the Senate Budget Committee from 2001 to 2004 and now directs federal fiscal policy at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

The difficulty has already arisen, Horney said, as Democratic leaders have struggled to reach a compromise in the Caucus on discretionary funding.

The disagreement turns on a demand from the Blue Dog Coalition that non-security discretionary spending be cut 2 percent each year for three years and subject to a freeze for an additional two years. Liberal Democrats are opposed to that proposal because they are concerned that it would hurt federal programs on which their constituents depend.

House Democrats are also considering passing a deeming resolution, instead of a five-year spending plan, that would set the discretionary funding level for just fiscal 2011 and allow appropriators to move forward on the spending bills.

If the decision is made to pursue a deeming measure, it would be the first time since 1974 when the current budget rules were put in place that the House has failed to pass a budget resolution.

Budget negotiations have been going on for weeks and some lawmakers, including House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. John Spratt, D-S.C., have said House Democratic leaders have to decide soon.

Republicans Thursday accused Democrats of shirking their responsibility to pass all 12 annual appropriations bills.

"If the news that the Democrats are not planning on doing appropriations bills is true, it would be an absolute failure to fulfill their most basic duties as members of Congress," said Jennifer Hing, a spokeswoman for House Appropriations Committee ranking member Rep. Jerry Lewis, R-Calif.

Meanwhile, Hoyer, in his weekly colloquy with Minority Whip Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va., said that while work continues on trying to get an agreement on a budget plan, it would not likely be reached before the Memorial Day recess.

"But my expectation is that we will continue to work on that and hopefully do that shortly after our return," Hoyer said.

He added that the House could take up a war supplemental spending bill next week. "Chairman Obey is working to get a bill ready for committee consideration and it is possible that we would consider that next week if in fact Mr. Obey and the committee are ready to report that out," Hoyer said.

The Senate is expected to begin consideration of its version of the supplemental after it votes on financial reform legislation.

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