Defense measure likely to carry unfinished spending bills

By Humberto Sanchez

November 17, 2009

An end-of-the-year, catch-all appropriations package being put together will likely carry no more than four of the annual spending bills, with the fiscal 2010 Defense Appropriations measure as the legislative vehicle, Senate Appropriations Chairman Daniel Inouye said Monday.

"There is common talk around here that Defense is going to be used as a big truck" with "at the most ... four" bills hitching a ride, Inouye said.

Inouye indicated the Defense bill -- which will not move until after Thanksgiving -- is the likely candidate to carry a debt-ceiling increase, a decision he said was being made by Democratic leaders. Congress needs to raise the debt limit by the end of the year, according to the Treasury Department.

The other bills likely to be part of the omnibus are the three that have not been considered by the Senate -- Financial Services, Labor-Health and Human Services and State-Foreign Operations. The House has cleared all 12 appropriations bills.

Five of the 12 bills have been signed by President Obama, while Defense, Transportation-HUD and Commerce-Justice-Science are waiting for House and Senate negotiators to approve final versions for approval by both chambers.

Inouye believes the Transportation-Housing and Urban Development and Commerce-Justice-Science bills can be finished individually.

Senate Commerce-Justice-Science Appropriations Subcommittee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., said Monday conferees might meet Wednesday to approve the final version of her panel's bill. "We are ready to go," she said, while noting the House must name conferees.

House Republicans said they had expected House Democratic leaders to name C-J-S conferees Monday but did not because Republicans would have forced Democrats to take a tough vote on instructing conferees to include a provision to prohibit the transfer or release of prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, even for the purpose of prosecuting them in the United States.

The Republican comments come after the Obama administration Friday announced it will prosecute five individuals charged with committing the Sept. 11, 2001, World Trade Center terrorist attacks in federal court in New York. They include Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the man charged with co-planning the attacks.

The House-passed C-J-S bill restricts the transfer and release of Guantanamo Bay detainees but would not prevent the transfer of prisoners to the United States for prosecution.

"Democrat leaders should immediately allow Congress to block President Obama's ill-conceived campaign pledge to close the Guantanamo Bay facility and transfer detainees to the U.S.," House Appropriations ranking member Jerry Lewis said.

Meanwhile, the Senate inched toward finishing work on the $133.9 billion, fiscal 2010 Military Construction-Veterans Affairs Appropriations bill after approving, 93-0, an amendment to require reports generated under the measure, except those containing national security or proprietary information, to be made public.

The Senate also rejected, 69-24, a motion from Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., to send the bill back to committee to cut spending on unauthorized, less-urgent projects to offset the cost of funding the healthcare needs, including family care-givers, of all disabled veterans.

By Humberto Sanchez

November 17, 2009