White House open to emergency spending, omnibus bill

Earmarks will remain, despite lawmaker's earlier pledge, although at significantly reduced levels.

House and Senate Democrats remained deadlocked Wednesday over how to complete the fiscal 2008 appropriations process as the White House appeared to open the door to emergency spending increases and to soften its opposition to an omnibus bill.

Senate Democrats as recently as this morning thought they had an agreement to bring up the original bill they negotiated with the House, which splits the difference with President Bush's budget by adding $11 billion to his request. That would have come up Thursday, but sources later said the Senate plans to see what the House is able to pass.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and House Appropriations Chairman David Obey, D-Wisc., Wednesday instructed the 11 subcommittee cardinals who oversee the remaining spending bills to trim them back to Bush's $933 billion request. Emergency spending could be added, along with additional funds designated as "contingent emergencies" that would require Bush to agree to release the money. It would be up to individual subcommittee chairmen to decide how to implement the cuts. Earmarks will remain, despite an earlier Obey pledge, although at significantly reduced levels.

House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, has raised the prospect of emergency spending, and at the White House Wednesday, press secretary Dana Perino said Bush might be open to the idea.

"I think that we would consider emergency spending if we needed to at the end of the day," she said.

She also indicated, for the first time, that an omnibus bill might be acceptable. "We realize that now that the time is running short they might not be able to get all those bills individually to him before they leave town for the holidays, that they might have to do an omnibus," Perino said. "So we'll have to take a look at that."

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said at his weekly press conference that a bill could be on the floor Friday. That means the Senate could be in session this weekend to work on the omnibus. Senators Wednesday were under the impression the split-the-difference package would be the basis for an eventual agreement.

"I think it will be closer to $944 [billion]," said Senate Labor-HHS Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, who added that "just four hours ago" the plan was to move ahead at that number in the Senate and send that bill to the House.

House Appropriations subcommittee chairmen are not happy about the prospect of finding cuts to adhere to Bush's budget limits. House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee Chairwoman Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., who is close to Pelosi, blamed Bush's unbending position. "What's really troubling is the people who are going to suffer," she said.

Still up in the air is Iraq war funding. As early as this morning, Senate GOP leaders were expected to offer an amendment to boost war-spending to $70 billion when the underlying bill came up. Now that fight might wait until next week, if the House acts first.

Pelosi and Obey have pledged not to include Iraq war funding without conditions, although Obey hinted late Tuesday that the decision would be made by the Caucus as a whole. A House Democratic aide said there was significant momentum for some sort of incremental funding to be added, at least to stave off furloughs and other harsh cost-cutting measures at domestic military installations.