By Emelie Rutherford

The House is expected to pass the long-delayed Pentagon spending bill this week after House and Senate appropriators met last Friday to hash out differences between different versions of the legislation.

The Senate also could take up the fiscal year 2010 defense appropriations bill this week, after House passage. If it does not, another temporary continuing resolution extending Defense Department spending at FY ’09 levels will need to be approved by Congress, because such a resolution that has been in place since FY ’10 began Oct. 1 will expire on Friday.

The "big four" defense appropriators–House Appropriations Defense subcommittee Chairman John Murtha (D-Pa.) and Ranking Member C.W. "Bill" Young (R-Fla.), along with Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) and Ranking Member Thad Cochran (R-Miss.)–met late last Friday to hammer out differences in bills that previously passed the House and Senate. It was not clear last Friday if a formal conference committee would convene to approve one final bill.

A spokesman for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Nadeam Elshami, predicted the defense bill could hit the House floor midway through this week. It was not known last Friday precisely when the bill could come up in the Senate, or when the Senate would start its Christmas recess.

"We will await action by the House" on the defense bill, said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) spokeswoman Regan Lachapelle. "We hope to complete health reform before Christmas and we have a lot of work to do."

The Senate late last week paused the contentious health-care legislation debate to consider a package of FY ’10 appropriations bills, which does not include the defense measure.

The "big four" defense budget-writers last Friday talked about unresolved issues with the Pentagon legislation, including whether to appropriate money not sought by the White House to missionize VH-71 presidential helicopters from the now-canceled Lockheed Martin [LMT] program, which is in the House bill but not the Senate version. The bill agreed to on Friday does not include the funds to missionize the already built choppers, but does include some funding for the VH-71 effort.

Murtha and Inouye have indicated the House-Senate compromise legislation will likely include monies for another item President Barack Obama opposes: the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter second engine, developed by General Electric [GE] and Rolls-Royce.

The defense bill is not expected to sail smoothly through Congress this week.

House Appropriations Committee (HAC) Republicans said in a Dec. 9 letter to Pelosi and HAC Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.) they will oppose the measure if Democrats follow through with plans to tack on it legislation increasing the U.S. debt limit. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said the government-borrowing change and other non-defense items will be added to the Pentagon spending measure.

Conservative "Blue Dog" Democrats in the House and lawmakers from both parties in the Senate also have expressed concern about aspects of the debt-limit increase.

In addition, anti-war Democrats are expected to vote against the defense measure.

While the Pentagon appropriations bill for FY ’10 is not finished yet, the policy-setting defense authorization bill for the fiscal year has already been signed into law.

The appropriations legislation includes the base Defense Department budget as well as much of the war funding for FY ’10. Though the White House requested $130 billion for the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan as part of this main spending bill, administration and congressional officials have said a supplement war-funding bill will be needed early next year.