House Dems increase spending, challenge administration

The House Appropriations Committee is continuing its march through the first round of fiscal 2008 spending bills, and by week's end will have exceeded President Bush's request by $9 billion.

The Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee approved a $31.6 billion bill this morning that tops Bush's request by $1.1 billion, and another subcommittee will take up the fiscal 2008 Interior-Environment measure that adds an additional $1.9 billion above the White House request.

Appropriations panels since Friday have approved $6 billion worth of spending increases in homeland security programs and veterans' benefits. Democrats appear emboldened by their success in securing $17 billion more than Bush requested in the supplemental war-funding bill slated for floor action Thursday.

Democrats demanded and received concessions such as $3 billion in agriculture disaster assistance, a reduction of $500 million from the vetoed bill but still a victory for farm-state lawmakers. An extension of dairy subsidies for small to mid-size farms is also included, which would be a boon to the program given farm bill deliberations.

Lawmakers also were considering $40 million to help Greensburg, Kan., recover from a May 4 tornado.

After jockeying among airlines competing for pension relief, it appeared the measure would preserve language allowing Continental Airlines to stretch out its pension contributions an extra year. American Airlines had sought similar relief later in the process but was rebuffed, in part because of an aggressive lobbying campaign by competitors Northwest and Delta to try to kill even the Continental provision, which was included in the House-passed bill two weeks ago.

The White House is signaling it will not give in as easily on spending later this year, particularly if Democrats are able to force a change in direction on Iraq policy.

"It's clear the Democrats want to spend more and we want to spend less. And we will continue working to cut out unrelated spending," said Office of Management and Budget spokesman Sean Kevelighan.

The Energy and Water measure would add money for climate change with a 30 percent increase in funding for alternative energy. Basic science at the Energy Department would see a $719 million increase, a top priority of universities.

Nuclear nonproliferation efforts are rewarded with a 74 percent boost in the president's request, one of the areas in which Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Peter Visclosky, D-Ind., and ranking member David Hobson, R-Ohio, agreed the agency is doing a good job.

But in other areas, such as nuclear weapons research, the panel agreed in a bipartisan fashion to cut funding, arguing in the post-Cold War era the administration should have a plan to downsize the nation's nuclear weapons stockpile. As always, there was bipartisan support for Army Corps of Engineers, which would see a $713 million boost above the budget request.

No earmarks are included in the initial bill, as Appropriations Chairman David Obey, D-Wis., said more time is needed to scrutinize each request. "Until we've done that, there ain't gonna be no projects in no bill because it's my reputation on the line more than anybody else's," Obey said.

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