The Senate on Monday began consideration of a $59 billion war supplemental spending package as Democrats braced to fend off efforts from Republicans who are attempting to force votes on offsetting the cost of the measure.
"I recognize that many on both sides of the aisle believe we simply shouldn't spend more, but I say to you the nation still has legitimate needs and [we have] a responsibility to act," Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, said on the floor. "We cannot stop investing in our nation simply because of high deficits. This is a time for fiscal austerity, but not for cutting legitimate spending needs."
Inouye, who said he hopes to pass the bill by Wednesday night, characterized the package as "the minimum necessary to support our troops in harm's way, and to meet emergency domestic and international requirements."
In a Statement of Administration Policy, the White House Monday urged "Congress to act swiftly to enact" the bill, which it called "essential" for the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, humanitarian work in Haiti following the January earthquake, and efforts to provide aid to the Gulf Coast in the wake of the continuing oil spill.
Senate consideration began as the House Appropriations Committee announced on Monday that it would mark up a House version of the supplemental Thursday evening. Inouye said he expects to have a conference with the House to reconcile any differences between the House and Senate bills and hopes to quickly complete it, most likely after returning from the Memorial Day recess.
But Inouye will first have to contend with Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., who has argued that Congress is too quick to deem spending an emergency, which waives a requirement under budget rules that the spending be paid for. Coburn believes the supplemental should be offset and not add to the deficit.
"This legislation is designed to bail out career politicians who want to avoid the hard work of prioritizing spending," Coburn said last week.
He is expected to offer as an amendment a package of rescissions.
Another amendment to trim the deficit was offered Monday by Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala. The proposal would hold increases in discretionary spending to no more than a 2 percent increase a year for five years.
"I am convinced that statutory caps in the '90s were a very positive factor in containing the growth of spending," Sessions said Monday.
Sessions offered a similar amendment to FAA legislation in March, but failed to win the 60 votes needed to pass.
Other possible amendments include a proposal to add $23 billion to the measure to avoid teacher layoffs. Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chairman Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, might offer the amendment, but it is unclear if he can win the 60 votes needed to adopt it. One veteran Democrat said he expects Harkin to offer the proposal, but withdraw it.
Appropriations Committee ranking member Thad Cochran, R-Miss., warned against adding extra funding to the bill that could delay quick passage.
"Adding additional cost to this bill will exacerbate our fiscal imbalance and potentially jeopardize our ability to rapidly get needed resources to our men and women in harms' way in Afghanistan and Iraq and in other parts of the world," Cochran said.
He added, "I believe we will poorly serve our men and women in the field if we allow internal tactical battles to unduly delay delivery of the bill to the president. Or if we burden this bill with other costs or legislative matters that are unrelated and controversial."
Despite Cochran's admonition, Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said he would offer an amendment -- as soon as Tuesday -- providing $2 billion for six border security initiatives, including establishing a $300 million grant program to assist state and local law enforcement that operate within 100 miles of the border; and a $100 million for infrastructure improvements at ports of entry.
There is "frustration that Washington, D.C., especially Congress and the president of the United States are not doing enough" to protect citizens from the violence in Mexico, Cornyn said.
The amendment would also support additional equipment for the Border Patrol, including more helicopters and Predator unmanned aerial drones. And it would provide funding to hire more personnel and make improvements inside federal agencies that work on border security issues, as well as detention centers and so-called state fusion centers.
Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., said he plans to offer an amendment to the supplemental that would require the president to provide a plan and timetable for drawing down U.S. forces in Afghanistan and identify any variables that could require changes to that timetable.
Other amendments include a proposal filed by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., Monday that would provide collective bargaining rights for public safety officers employed by states or their political subdivisions.
Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., filed an amendment that would limit secret holds to 48 hours, and Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., filed an amendment that would require at least 700 miles of reinforced fencing along the Southwest border to be completed within a year.
Inouye also said he does not expect a fiscal 2011 deeming resolution to be added to the supplemental. Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, D-N.D., said recently that he had been mulling the idea in lieu of a five-year budget resolution.