By Emelie Rutherford

Senate leaders said yesterday they expect a defense appropriations bill to clear their chamber this year, though questions about the legislation’s fate in the House lingered following the postponement of today’s scheduled markup of the legislation.

The House Appropriations defense subcommittee (HAC-D) had been scheduled since last month to mark up its fiscal year 2009 defense appropriations bill today. Yet House Democratic leaders questioned last week if any of the 12 appropriations bills for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1 will pass before the end of the calendar year, because of fighting with Republicans. Then late Monday afternoon the House Appropriations Committee (HAC) announced the defense bill markup is postponed.

A spokesman for HAC-D Chairman John Murtha (D-Pa.) said yesterday afternoon that people will have to "wait and see" if the markup is rescheduled, though he suggested that may not happen soon.

HAC Chairman David Obey’s (D-Wis.) spokeswoman maintained the markup was postponed because "there are a few outstanding issues they are still working on," and not because of concerns regarding the fate of all appropriations bills this year.

Murtha said last week that he sees "a slight chance of defense being passed, but it’s very slight" (Defense Daily, July 11).

That’s because Obey had slowed work on the various appropriations bills, upset with Republicans for procedural attempts to force energy policy changes into the spending measures.

However, sources said the situation in the House may improve, because on Monday HAC Ranking Member Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.) sent Obey a letter saying House Republican appropriators will not offer energy amendments to the seven appropriations bills the full HAC has not yet considered. HAC Republicans’ attempt last month to add energy language to the Labor-Health and Human Services appropriations bill via amendments is what set off Obey.

HAC Republicans had not heard back from Obey as of late yesterday afternoon, Lewis’ spokeswoman said.

Meanwhile, the Senate Appropriations Committee (SAC) said its current plan is to mark up the defense appropriations bill next week, on July 24. SAC Chairman Robert Byrd (D- W.Va.) announced the plans for the defense bill last Thursday, during an unrelated bill markup.

However, the Senate Appropriations defense subcommittee (SAC-D) has not yet announced plans for its markup of the bill. In addition, the full SAC is not due to officially schedule the full committee defense markup until the end of this week.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said yesterday he expects a defense appropriations bill to be debated in his chamber this year. His statements appear more optimistic that those he made last Thursday, when he cast doubt on any FY ’09 appropriations bills passing before the next presidential administration’s arrival, as President Bush has threatened to veto spending bills exceeding his requests (Defense Daily, July 11).

Senate Majority Whip Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), a SAC-D member, said the defense legislation could be the only appropriations bill that actually passes the Senate this calendar year.

"We’re in the midst of a war, we always give priority to defense bills. Some people criticize that, but we always do, whether it’s authorization or appropriation," Durbin said when asked why the defense appropriations bill is considered a "must-pass" bill.

"I think it will happen and I think it needs to happen," SAC-D member Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) said about the defense bill passing this year.

Full SAC member Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) said he is "hopeful" the defense spending legislation passes in time, questioning how a continuing resolution (CR) would be able to address the Pentagon’s needs for FY ’09.

"There’s a lot of new stuff in it that you’ve got to have," Nelson said about the Pentagon’s FY ’09 budget.

A CR would keep FY ’09 funding at FY ’08 levels until an appropriations bill is passed. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Michael Mullen have balked at the idea of relying on a CR in FY ’09 (Defense Daily, May 21).

SAC-D ranking member Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) said his staff is ready to mark up the defense appropriations bill. He declined to predict if there will indeed be a full committee markup next week, but said his is "very disappointed [with] the appropriations process."

"It’s been sidelined for leadership purposes and it’s contrary to the best interest of government as far as I’m concerned," Stevens said, adding "that is not the fault of the people on the appropriations committee."