Monday, May 01, 2006

The Senate and the Supplemental

The Senate debate on the FY2006 Emergency Supplemental resumes after the weekend during which major rallies were held across the nation to protest the Iraq war and the tepid response by the administration and other governments to the genocide in Darfur.

The rallies were intended to maintain momentum that has been building on both Iraq and Darfur during the previous two weeks when Members were in their districts meeting with constituents. And when they returned last Monday, Members were confronted with a major coordinated call-in on Iraq that sparked some of the proposed amendments.

Some amendments proposed will strengthen the pending legislation while others fall short. Senator Biden is expected to submit an amendment prohibiting the expenditure of any funds in the bill on permanent basing in Iraq or to exercise control over oil infrastructure is on the mark. Senator Feingold’s misses as his proposal, while providing for troop withdrawal by the end of 2006, leaves a “minimal force for engaging directly in targeted counter-terrorism activities…and protecting U.S. infrastructure and personnel. Since embassy protection via Marines is a given for all U.S. embassies, this proposal, if accepted, would leave open the door for permanent installations and U.S. troop presence.

Biden would help pay for the Iraq war by canceling tax breaks affecting the wealthiest if the breaks have not already kicked in. Biden, Kennedy, and Leahy would target $96 million to promote democracy and build civic society in Iraq; while this may help grass roots democracy in Iraq, the $25 million that Senator Santorum wants to build democracy in Iran is wasted until or unless some administration finally ends the now 27 year old grudge against Tehran. (This doesn’t meaning forgetting, just moving on.) Senator McConnell also introduces sanity back into the Palestinian issue by giving the president authority to waive restrictions on assistance to the Palestinian Authority and to support democracy building.

A sense of the Senate resolution that has been adopted (94-0) would require that future requests for money for military operations ongoing when the annual budget request is about to be sent to Congress – including for Iraq and Afghanistan – be included in the regular budget request rather than in a supplemental. This may be contentious in any Senate-House conference.

On Darfur, Senators Biden and DeWine call for funds to pay for the U.S. share of costs to keep NATO assistance flowing to the African Union mission in Darfur and to continue the activities of the special envoy of the president in Darfur.

Together with restoration of full funding for Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction funds and other provisions on veterans’ health care, some of which operate at cross-purposes and will have to be reconciled before a final vote, the foreign affairs side of the supplemental is about as political feasible as is possible.

The big question is what will be cut, first in the Senate to get the price tag down to the $94 billion range, and then in conference with the House.

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