Let’s walk through just what happened last night in the House of Representatives on the war supplemental, and its multiple implications.
The House wanted to pass war funding, and a substantial amount of members wanted to tack on some social spending. Antiwar progressives didn’t want to vote for both the social spending and the war money together. Others wanted their own vote to end the war or institute a timeline. And then there was the matter of the budget resolution, and this bill offered an inviting way to shoehorn that in.
It turns out the House took up five different votes. The first was a vote on the rule, which ended up being self-executing. In other words, the House voted to set the terms for debate on the bill, and never had to vote on the underlying bill. Inside the rule, the bill was “deemed” passed after the rule passed. That was a heavy lift, with opposition from Blue Dogs opposed to the social spending and progressives opposed to the war. It squeaked by, 215-210, with 38 Democrats voting no.
The budget resolution was included in that self-executing rule, and while it’s not really a budget – it’s somewhat different because it doesn’t include the specific appropriations – it limits discretionary spending below the President’s budget blueprint, and (in a controversial move) “Commits the House to vote on any Senate-passed recommendations of the bipartisan Fiscal Commission and that net savings from any Commission recommendations will go to deficit reduction.”
Speaker Pelosi had already promised on numerous occasions that the recommendations of the cat food commission would get a House vote. But adding statutory language is pretty obscene. If the package is particularly distasteful, say an all-cuts measure that lowers benefits for Social Security, Pelosi will be statutorily obligated to put up the vote even if a majority of her caucus disagrees with it. In an odd twist, the filibuster holds the best hope for blocking the commission’s recommendations at this point, as well as the Republican mania against any new taxes.
After the rule, we got five different roll call votes on amendments. One of them included this social spending money, comprised of:
$10 billion for an Education Jobs Fund, $4.95 billion for Pell Grants, $701 million for border security, $180 million for innovative technology energy loans, $163 million for schools on military installations, $142 million in additional Gulf Coast oil spill funding, $50 million in emergency food assistance, and $16.5 million to build a new soldier processing center at Fort Hood.
You can read the full summary from David Obey of the Appropriations Committee here. There were some underlying provisions from the Senate war supplemental that appropriated funds to disaster relief, victims of Agent Orange, mine safety, the oil spill, and other areas.
This money in this amendment is entirely paid for through rescissions in various programs, and actually reduces the deficit by $439 million. But in order to pay for the education jobs fund and save 140,000 teachers, House appropriators dipped into $500 million of the Race to the Top fund. Arne Duncan has been sitting on $4 billion dollars in stimulus money for over a year so he can bribe states into changing their education policies. In the meantime, state budgets are in absolute crisis and hundreds of thousands of teachers could lose their jobs. The deficit scolds want things paid for, so House appropriators proposed taking just a sliver of that $4 billion Duncan is hoarding, to apply to the education jobs fund. The most important possible “reform” right now for public schools is for them to have teachers. If you’re going to use “unspent stimulus money,” Race to the Top is a good place to start.
But this doesn’t meet with Duncan’s cunning plan, so the White House threatened a veto of the bill if that amendment passed. In their statement of Administration policy, they wrote:
H.R. 4899 also contains $800 million in rescissions from education reform programs—programs that will help schools upgrade their standards and instruction so as to better prepare more students to succeed in school and in life. The Administration is more than willing to work with the Congress to pursue fiscally responsible ways to finance education jobs; however, these rescissions undercut programs that have already received applications from more than three dozen States. It would be short-sighted to weaken funding for these reforms just as they begin to show such promise. The Administration urges the House to include education jobs funding in a version of H.R. 4899 that does not rescind education reform funding. If the final bill presented to the President includes cuts to education reforms, the President’s senior advisors would recommend a veto.
What they actually wanted was the same bill the Senate passed so they could easily get their precious war money. And they wanted the maximum amount of shock-doctrine funds to force untested “reforms” on public schools nationwide. Well, they didn’t get it. The amendment passed, and pretty easily, with only 15 Democratic defections and 3 Republican supporters (Castle, Tim Johnson, Kirk). So that’s in the bill.
The other three votes were test votes on the level of opposition to the Afghan war. An amendment pushed by Blue Dogs to embarrass the antiwar crowd by calling for an elimination of military funding got 25 votes. But Barbara Lee’s amendment calling for money to only go toward a withdrawal garnered 100 votes. And the McGovern amendment, which would have required a timetable for withdrawal, received a whopping 162 votes, including the majority of the Democratic caucus and 9 Republicans. This shows a real crumbling of the Afghanistan policy.
So where do we go from here? The House bill differed from the Senate bill significantly, with all kinds of additional spending. It’s unclear whether the Senate can pass a now-$80 billion dollar supplemental. They certainly won’t even try until mid-July when they return from recess. And despite the pay-fors to the education spending (the House bill is actually cheaper in deficit terms, and it doesn’t have that $3.9 billion for Afghan reconstruction to boot), it’s likely that the Senate will balk. Who will blink?
UPDATE: Forgot to mention that the youth summer jobs program and a settlement with black farmers, both priorities of the Congressional Black Caucus, got into this supplemental as well.
UPDATE II: I’m getting some new information that the planned vote on the cat food commission isn’t quite statutory. It’s part of the one-year budget outline and isn’t really binding, just a statement that the House should vote on Senate-passed recommendations in the lame-duck session. As is best on these procedural questions, you should typically check in with David Waldman at Congress Matters. He’ll probably sort it out soon.