Senate turns to popular military construction bill

The Senate resumed work today on fiscal 2008 appropriations measures after completing just one of the 12 annual spending bills before the August recess.

The chamber took up a $109.2 billion Military Construction-Veterans Affairs measure, the most politically popular spending bill and one that President Bush has decided not to veto even though it is $4 billion above his request. A similar House version passed on a 409-2 vote.

As with the House bill, the White House issued a Statement of Administration Policy saying while Bush would not veto the measure, he would veto other spending bills unless $4 billion in offsets were found.

The chamber interrupted consideration of the Military Construction-VA bill to spend three hours debating the nomination of former House Budget Chairman Jim Nussle, R-Iowa, before confirming him as director of the Office of Management and Budget.

Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said the Senate "plans to devote considerable time this work period" to appropriations, including passage of three more spending measures before adjourning Sept. 12 for the week in observance of Rosh Hashana. The House has completed work on all 12 bills, but the lack of Senate action has prompted the White House and congressional Republicans to go on the offensive against Senate Democrats.

"This almost certainly means we'll soon be looking at an appropriations train wreck here in the next few weeks, followed by a continuing resolution to keep the government running," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Tuesday on the floor. He noted that Democrats took his own party to task last year when Senate Republicans failed to complete action on appropriations bills.

After completing the Military Construction-VA bill early this week, Reid said the chamber would turn to the $34.4 billion State-Foreign Operations bill. The measure is $700 million below Bush's request, but contains abortion language similar to House version language that prompted a veto threat. Reid said the chamber will then take up the $104.7 billion Transportation-Housing and Urban Development bill, also likely to receive a White House veto threat over spending levels.

The only hint of controversy in the Military Construction-VA bill so far is a provision authored by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., that would block a Bush administration proposal to allow portions of the 388-acre West Los Angeles VA Medical Center to be developed for commercial purposes. Labeling the provision an "earmark," the SAP said the administration strongly opposes it, estimating it could cost $4 billion in lost revenues.

A Feinstein spokesman said her office has not previously seen that figure, and that she put in the language to ensure the land is used only for veterans' facilities and not commercial development. Similar language was removed from the spring Iraq supplemental in last-minute negotiations because of White House objections.

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