Appropriations panel approves fiscal 2009 war supplemental

By Otto Kreisher

May 8, 2009

The House Appropriations Committee voted Thursday to adopt a $94.2 billion emergency supplemental appropriations bill providing funding for combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and other urgent military and domestic programs for the remainder of fiscal 2009.

The bill would add $9.3 billion to President Obama's request, with most of the additional funds going to military aircraft and efforts to combat the H1N1 flu, also known as the swine flu.

In addition to paying for rising costs of the two wars, the bill would buy eight C-17 and 11 C-130 transports the administration did not seek, would provide $4.8 billion for additional mine-resistant, ambush-protected (MRAP) vehicles, supply $734.4 million to compensate 170,000 service members held in the service by "stop-loss" rules and give $2.2 billion to address the swine flu outbreak.

The committee hopes to have the bill on the House floor next week.

The bill was approved on a bipartisan voice vote after hours of partisan infighting and roll call votes, with the most intense conflict over Obama's plans to close the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, prison.

The chairman's mark removed the $80 million Obama requested for that purpose, requiring the administration to reapply for those funds after it submitted a plan for disposing of the detainees.

Republicans tried several times to prohibit closing the prison or to prevent relocating any of its detainees into the United States. Each was defeated on party-line votes.

The Democrats also defeated GOP efforts to reallocate some of the money from foreign assistance to programs aimed at preventing the vicious drug war in Mexico from crossing into the United States.

House Appropriations Chairman David Obey, D-Wis., said the supplemental was the "last of the leftover business" from the Bush administration, which he said financed the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan "on the installment plan." Obama has promised to pay for the wars in the regular budget process, he said.

Obey insisted that, contrary to reports that said he would give the administration a year to prove it could succeed in Afghanistan or lose funding, "there are no deadlines, no timelines, no ultimatums." But Obey said he was "extremely dubious" that any U.S. effort could end the conflicts in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and the bill required a detailed report to Congress, with the fiscal 2011 budget requests, on the conditions there.

Appropriations ranking member Jerry Lewis, R-Calif., said he was pleased with the bipartisan process that produced the $81.6 billion defense portions of the bill. He objected to the majority's addition of "billions of dollars to international assistance programs -- some of it excessive and poorly justified."

The committee unanimously approved a manager's amendment that shifted $100 million from the Army's SINCGARS radio program to the Navy to repair the wings of aged P-3 patrol planes. It also restricted any foreign assistance to a Palestinian government that did not recognize Israel's right to exist.

That was virtually the last bipartisan act until final approval.

Obey tried to shift $400 million provided to help Pakistan deal with the Taliban insurgency from the State Department to the Pentagon for the current year, while leaving the fiscal 2010 funds with State. But Lewis offered an amendment to give the fiscal 2010 funds directly to the military, which would conduct the training program.

The panel rejected Lewis' modification before approving Obey's amendment. Defense Appropriations Subcommittee ranking member C.W. (Bill) Young, R-Fla., then tried to shift $3 billion in Pentagon funding, which was unused because of lower-than-expected fuel prices, to what he called "high priority defense programs." Those included more MRAPs for Afghanistan, more Air Force transports and pay for soldiers and Marines that had been recruited faster than expected.

Obey said the $3 billion had already been allocated to other programs.

Defense Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman John Murtha, D-Pa., objected to the additional MRAPs and aircraft, noting the bill already provided more than the administration had requested. But he accepted the $1.4 billion shift Young proposed for the personnel accounts, and the modified amendment passed by voice vote.

By Otto Kreisher

May 8, 2009