December 19, 2007

Bush Gets War Funding, Congress Gets Pork

Voters will have to determine whether the trade is worth it, but the 2008 budget finally passed Congress in an omnibus bill that will make its way down Pennsylvania Avenue on pork grease. The spending bill contains 9,000 earmarks, hundreds of which violated the supposed ethics reforms by getting airdropped in conference. Still, the bill represents at least two stunning victories for the White House and yet another surrender on the war by Democrats:

The Senate last night approved a $555 billion omnibus spending bill to fund the federal government for the rest of the fiscal year, shortly after bowing to President Bush's demand for $70 billion in unrestricted funds for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Democrats had vowed only weeks ago to withhold any Iraq-specific money unless strict timelines for troop withdrawal were established, but they instead chose, on a 70 to 25 vote, to remove what appeared to be the final obstacle to sending the spending bill to the White House, where Bush has indicated he will sign it. Senators then passed the omnibus bill, 76 to 17.

The House must still approve the revised spending bill, with the unrestricted war funds, but Democrats there concede the measure is likely to pass behind strong Republican support.

Senate leaders also fell short on finding a way to pay for changes to the alternative minimum tax. The chamber had already passed a measure to keep 23 million households, most of them upper-middle-income, from being hit with the AMT next year, but many House Democrats sought to offset the loss of $50 billion to the Treasury from the tax "patch," and so senior Democrats offered up a series of tax increases to cover the cost.

Republicans and some Democrats held firm against any tax increase, though, and the proposal, with a vote of 48 to 46 in favor, fell far short of the 60 votes needed to pass. The House now appears ready to pass the AMT measure without any offset.

The Democrats will have to hope that their pork will serve as a consolation prize to the anti-war activists that they have now abandoned twice in this session of Congress. After their failure to assume command of the military in June, their base erupted in anger. After all, they had promised to end the war if they got control of Congress, and yet they didn't take the one action Constitutionally open to them: defunding the war. They couldn't do it this time with the significant improvement seen since then in Iraq, and therefore the funding battle was a foregone conclusion.

Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi will tell them that they will stop the war next time. Sure they will. Russ Feingold attempted to add an amendment to force a troop withdrawal; it got 24 votes in the Democrat-controlled Senate. The Democratic Senators running for President didn't bother to show up for the vote.

Pelosi lost on the AMT as well. As late as yesterday, Steny Hoyer attempted to float the notion that the Democrats could still get a tax increase into the omnibus bill. Instead, Reid proved once again that he cannot deliver on the Democratic agenda, meaning that the AMT patch will not get a requisite tax boost elsewhere.

Neither Reid nor Pelosi apparently considered the option of trimming the federal budget to pay for the AMT patch, a cut of less than 2% of the budget. Budget reductions apparently fall outside of Democratic leadership experience.

The omnibus bill has plenty of reasons for a veto -- about 9,000 of them -- but Bush will sign it as soon as White House counsel vets it. It will probably be the first time anyone actually reads it all the way through; the Democrats dropped this bomb on Monday morning, and since it's several times larger than the Bible, we can bet no one in Congress has done so. Unfortunately, the last continuing resolution expires on Friday, so Congress will have to pass another on top of this omnibus bill in order to keep the government going over the holiday.

A good trade? Bush got the war funding, and Congress got pork. You decide. In 2008.


TrackBack URL for this entry: