Dems remove Iran language from bill to boost war funding

House plan includes a lot of add-ons for domestic priorities, and incorporates major contracting reform legislation.

House Democratic leaders bowed to pressure from conservative members of the party Monday, stripping language that would have required congressional approval for President Bush to invade Iran from a $124.1 billion supplemental spending plan provided to the House Appropriations Committee.

Opposition to the Iran language from conservative Blue Dogs had threatened to sink the spending plan, which had already divided the Democratic Caucus and faced strong Republican opposition and a threatened White House veto.

Democratic aides said the measure makes good on promises to protect U.S. troops in Iraq while directing more money toward operations in Afghanistan. It would provide $226.5 million beyond the Bush administration request for reconstruction and economic development efforts in Afghanistan, for a total of almost $1 billion in spending. That is on top of an additional $1 billion beyond the White House request for military operations there.

The measure is expected to have the support needed to get out of committee, but it remains to be seen what will happen within the full Democratic Caucus, where liberal members and conservative lawmakers have raised significant problems with the proposal. Leadership aides said Monday that Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., and other leaders were still working to ensure enough votes to clear an expected floor vote sometime next week.

The Blue Dogs, who balked at the Iran language as well as some of the proposals for getting troops out of Iraq, will meet to consider the measure this morning. The move is unusual, given that the group usually does not caucus on national security issues.

The leaders have "been responsive enough to take out Iran. That's one of the two things they need to do," said Rep. Lincoln Davis, a Blue Dog Democrat from Tennessee, who added that the second step they need to take is to insert waiver provisions that would allow the president to sidestep troop withdrawals and other limitations in specific circumstances.

Republicans have pledged to oppose the supplemental over war proposals they say would tie Bush's hands and over the additional spending.

"This bill micromanages military operations and telegraphs a timeline for withdrawal to an enemy that hides and waits," said a spokesman for Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio. "It isn't a funding bill; it's an ambush."

The 172-page bill contains plenty to entice wavering lawmakers to support the bill, however. At $21.1 billion above the White House request overall, numerous domestic programs would benefit, as well as more generous military and homeland security spending. Add-ons range from aid to salmon fishermen and spinach handlers to $1 billion extra to purchase explosives detection equipment at airports.

The Gulf Coast is a major beneficiary of the Democrats' largesse, including $1.3 billion extra to strengthen levees in and around New Orleans and another $910 million to cover the cost of waiving state and local matching requirements for the Federal Emergency Management Agency's disaster aid program.

Livestock owners, citrus growers and other crop owners affected by the 2005 hurricanes benefit from $140 million, while another $120 million is provided for the shrimp and menhaden fishing industries. Another $60 million is included for education, while $80 million would go toward eliminating housing voucher shortfalls in hurricane-impacted areas.

Non-Gulf agriculture is also a winner in the bill, with $3.7 billion to compensate farmers, ranchers and growers for losses suffered during the last three crop years. The committee makes clear that it "does not intend for this to be an ongoing program" and requires all payments to cease no later than Sept. 30, 2008.

Livestock assistance would be available to compensate for losses due to wildfires in Texas and other states, and blizzards in Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, New Mexico and Oklahoma. Democrats also included $25 million for payments to spinach growers and handlers impacted by last year's health advisory that resulted in a recall of some supermarket spinach.

Dairy subsidies for small farmers benefit from an extension of the Milk Income Loss Contract program, at a $283 million cost, a program important to House Appropriations Chairman David Obey's home state of Wisconsin. Another $74 million is included to extend a peanut-storage program important to growers in the home state of House Agriculture Appropriations ranking member Jack Kingston, R-Ga.

Another $60.4 million in aid would go to communities, Indian tribes, fishermen and others affected by declining salmon runs in the Pacific Northwest.

Members of the Oregon and California delegations lobbied hard for the aid, and Oregon in particular benefits from $400 million included to renew a county payments program for rural communities that have suffered from declining timber sales since the mid-1990s.

The Capitol itself would benefit from some add-ons. Appropriators included $50 million to continue asbestos abatement efforts at the Capitol Power Plant, while $16 million is included for security improvements at House office buildings.

There also is the customary payment to the spouse of a deceased lawmaker, in this case the wife of the late Rep. Charlie Norwood, R-Ga.

And as so often happens with major spending bills, House leaders also included authorizing measures that fail to move through the process on their own.

In addition to the House-passed minimum wage and small business tax-break bills, Democrats included a major government-contracting oversight measure by Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Henry Waxman, D-Calif. They also revised language of chemical security legislation included in last year's Homeland Security appropriations bill, which Democrats criticized at the time as too weak and industry-friendly.