Published May 24, 2010
A year after President Obama pledged to end the practice of funding the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq with "emergency" spending bills, the Senate is taking up a $60 billion request that would do exactly that.
The spending bill, which includes $33 billion for the two wars in addition to disaster relief funds and aid for Haiti, is running headlong into concern from war-weary Democrats and deficit-conscious Republicans.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has called the bill a "heavy lift" in her chamber. But the Senate, which is taking up the request first, could be the scene of a spending stand-off between Democrats and Republicans.
Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., plans to offer an amendment requiring Congress to offset the cost of the package with spending cuts elsewhere. He slammed the administration for continuing to use the "emergency" supplemental to fund the wars -- by designating the spending bill as "emergency," Congress avoids having to find a way to pay for it.
"The last day war funding was unforeseen was September 10, 2001," the first-term senator said in a written statement. "This legislation is designed to bail out career politicians who want to avoid the hard work of prioritizing spending."
The Bush administration routinely used supplemental spending bills to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Obama criticized the practice as a candidate and when he came into office pledged to keep war funding within the traditional budget request.
"For seven years, we have been a nation at war. No longer will we hide its price," he said in his February 2009 address to a joint session of Congress.
When Obama requested $83 billion in additional funding last spring for the wars, he said he would draw the line there.
"This is the last planned war supplemental," he wrote in April 2009 to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, calling for "an honest, more accurate and fiscally responsible estimate of federal spending" after years of "budget gimmicks and wasteful spending."
But while Congress provided $130 billion for Iraq and Afghanistan at the end of last year as part of the traditional budget process, Obama this year came back to Capitol Hill for the additional $33 billion -- mostly to cover the cost of sending 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan.
"The irony certainly isn't lost on us," a Senate GOP aide told FoxNews.com. "Obviously they stuck with that pledge about as well as they stuck with most the other pledges they made."
But the aide said pending the consideration of the Coburn amendment, "the process for the supplemental could move relatively expeditiously."
The aide said House Democrats could pose a bigger hurdle. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said earlier this month that it would be easier to get the legislation passed in the House if it were approved by the Senate first since that would limit a back-and-forth debate.
The bill includes money for the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, aid for Haiti earthquake relief and money for flood relief in Rhode Island and Tennessee.
"The administration looks forward to working with the Congress to further refine the bill as the legislative process moves forward and to meet these urgent and essential needs," the statement said.
Senate Appropriations Chairman Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, also defended the package after his committee unanimously approved it earlier this month.
"This bill is neither a bailout nor a stimulus. Instead it is the minimum necessary to meet emergency requirements and the cost of war," he said. "We recognize that many on both sides of the aisle believe we simply shouldn't spend more, but I say to you the nation still has legitimate needs and a responsibility to act."