Friday, May 19, 2006

House Conservatives Strip Spending

National Journal (subscription required) reports on the actions of House Conservatives - led by Jeb Hensarling of Texas - to strip some spending items from the Military Quality of Life funding bill debated in the House today.:

Budget Hawks Attack 'Gimmick' Used For Military Projects
Conservative Republicans today bucked appropriators and stripped 20 construction projects from the FY07 Military Quality of Life Appropriations bill over concerns that they were improperly funded out of an off-budget, supplemental "bridge" account for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee, called the appropriators' attempt to leverage the bridge fund for $507 million in military construction projects a "budget gimmick." Points of order raised by Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, to remove several projects at a time prompted immediate outcries from Republican and Democratic appropriators alike, who fired back that the construction projects are critical for military training and troop readiness. "Does he not understand that we are at war?" asked House Military Quality of Life Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman James Walsh, R-N.Y. "Does he not understand we have people in harm's way across the entire southern tier of Asia?"House Appropriations Chairman Lewis called the points of order an "affront to the work we're all about."
House Appropriations ranking member David Obey, D-Wis., acknowledged that diverting military construction projects to the bridge fund was a budgetary ploy. But he and other Democrats said appropriators were forced to do so because of a budget resolution that cut the subcommittee's allocation to $824 million below the president's request for military construction, health care and veterans programs. "This day illustrates how screwed up the priorities are on that side of the aisle," Obey said. House Military Quality of Life Appropriations Subcommittee ranking member Chet Edwards, D-Texas, criticized the challenge by conservative Republicans, stating that troops are "risking their lives today while we're debating technical points of order." Meanwhile, the White House opposed the appropriators' decision to use the bridge fund for construction projects it had requested. "This funding should be used only for urgent construction directly related to the Global War on Terror, instead of funding regular construction projects related to long-term defense needs," according to the statement, released by OMB today.
Still, the House easily passed the $136.1 billion spending bill this afternoon. The legislation upholds a widely criticized Pentagon proposal that would raise TRICARE healthcare co-pays and other fees for military retirees under age 65. Appropriators punted the TRICARE decision to authorizers, who last week succeeded in overturning much of the Pentagon proposal when the House overwhelmingly approved the FY07 defense authorization bill. "The committee cannot responsibly address the funding implications of these proposals until these legislative issues are resolved," according to the House Appropriations Committee report accompanying the spending bill. Edwards said he hoped the money would be added in later this year. "I hope and I trust that we will work on a bipartisan basis now through the final passage of the conference report of this bill to find those dollars," he said.
-- by Megan Scully

I bet Edwards gets his wish, and the stripped projects wind up funded, one way or another.

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