By Emelie Rutherford
The Senate plans to take up long-delayed war-funding legislation this week, after a senior House lawmaker pled yesterday with the chamber’s leader to approve the monies for the Pentagon.
All eyes are on the legislative calendar as the Defense Department awaits congressional action on the fiscal year 2010 war supplemental bill, which the White House requested in March, along with the FY ’11 defense budget bills.
The House is slated to leave for August recess at the end of next week, and the Senate is expected to remain in Washington through the first or second week of August.
House Armed Services Committee (HASC) Chairman Ike Skelton (D-Mo.) asked Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) yesterday to quickly pass the supplemental war-funding bill for FY ’10, which ends Sept. 30.
“In order to ensure that a supplemental appropriations bill can be forwarded to the president’s desk for his signature as quickly as possible, I urge that the bill be constructed so that it can obtain broad bi-partisan support in the United States Senate,” Skelton wrote to Reid. Skelton warned that a “critical hour is upon us” regarding the delayed funding.
In an unusual move, the Senate passed the supplemental first, on May 27, and then the House amended and passed the Senate supplemental on July 1. The bill will ping-pong between the chambers until they agree upon a final version to send President Barack Obama.
The legislation has been delayed as the Senate balked at non-defense items the House added, including funding to prevent teacher layoffs. Congressional Quarterly reported yesterday a House aide said House Democratic leaders agreed to pass a stripped-down supplemental with just funding for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Reid spokeswoman Regan Lachapelle said yesterday the Senate plans to debate the supplemental in the coming days.
“Senator Reid shares Chairman Skelton’s eagerness to get this bill to the president, and took swift action earlier to pass the bill before the House decided to broaden its scope,” Lachapelle said in a statement. “We plan to take up the bill again later this week, and continue to hope that, with the help of the House, we can get it done quickly.”
Defense Secretary Robert Gates has urged Congress for months to pass the war funding, and warning if it was not approved by the Fourth of July the Pentagon would dip into operations and maintenance money in the base budget to fund the wars.
Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell told reporters last week that the military services cannot dip into their base budgets to pay for war activities for very long.
“So absent more drastic action, we project that certain Army and Marine Corps accounts will run dry in August,” Morrell said July 14. “So we urgently need Congress to pass the supplemental before members leave town for the next break in August.”
The Pentagon’s budget team was developing an “emergency plan” in case Congress does not pass the supplemental by the August recess, Morrell said. Because the end of the FY ’10 is nearing, he said, “most of the (Defense) Department’s accounts are on their last legs already, so we are left with far fewer options in terms of cash flowing.”
Defense procurement funding in the current supplemental totals $4.9 billion, and is $512 more than Obama proposed on March 21. Additions include Navy, Army, and Coast Guard helicopters, as well as ballistic protection kits for Army helicopters and Army biometric identification tools (Defense Daily, July 13).
Meanwhile, on Capitol Hill, the timing of Senate action on the FY ’11 defense authorization bill remains unclear. A Senate aide said the chamber likely will not debate the policy-setting legislation this week, but could take it up before the August recess, which in the Senate is expected to begin the second or third week of August.
The House already passed its version of the authorization legislation. Neither chamber has taken up a FY ’11 budget-setting appropriations bill for the Pentagon.
The House Appropriations Defense subcommittee has delayed a markup of it bill from this Thursday until Tuesday of next week.
The full House Appropriations Committee is expected to cut the administration’s FY ’11 request for a $530.9 billion budget this Wednesday, when the committee is scheduled to set the so-called 302(b) allocations determining funding levels for the 12 subcommittees. The Senate Appropriations Committee voted last week to cut funding for the defense subcommittee’s bill by $8.1 billion, dropping the amount to $522.8 billion (Defense Daily, July 16).