Democratic leaders weigh defense bill as vehicle for continuing resolution

Congressional aides noted that President Bush would not be able to veto the defense measure, making it an attractive option.


House Democratic leaders are considering using the stalled fiscal 2009 Defense appropriations bill as a vehicle for a continuing resolution to fund the federal government into the next administration, according to senior Democratic sources.

"It is a real possibility," said one Democratic leadership aide.

Democratic staffers stressed that a final decision has yet to be made, but they noted President Bush would not be able to veto the defense measure, making it an attractive vehicle.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey, D-Wis., has said he does not plan to finish work on fiscal 2009 appropriations bills, citing a GOP effort to amend them with unrelated oil and gas drilling language.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and senior Democratic staff have acknowledged the likelihood of not completing any of the 12 bills beyond the Military Construction-VA and Defense appropriations measures. Reid and top aides on both sides of the Capitol have also said the CR will be needed with Congress not returning for a lame-duck session. Democratic leaders are expected to use the CR and a second economic stimulus package as vehicles for other must-pass bills and unfinished business for the year.

A defense source called making the Defense spending measure the vehicle for the continuing resolution a "tried and true method." But the source cautioned that it would be "extremely difficult" to conclude work on the Defense spending measure by the end of September unless at least one chamber passes it before the August recess. Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, has said his panel will most likely wait to mark up the measure until the House completes the bill. The timing for House action is uncertain, following the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee's decision to postpone last week's scheduled markup.

One lobbyist with an appropriations practice said the strategy could open Democrats to charges that funding for federal agencies would suffer because of their inability to complete work on all 12 spending bills. "If the White House is smart they would make clear that their budget provided a modest increase for many agencies," the lobbyist said. "A CR would amount to a cut." The Democratic strategy of extending the CR into early next year is built on the hope that Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., will win the presidency and the fiscal 2009 bills could be approved after he takes office.

Humberto Sanchez and Megan Scully contributed to this report