WASHINGTON – While Democrats try to restrict how President Bush can spend the $100 billion he wants for Iraq, they also hope to load his measure up with $10 billion in add-ons — from aid for avocado growers to help for children lacking health insurance.
Lawmakers also hope to add money for drought relief in the Great Plains, better levees in New Orleans and development of military bases that are closing down.
The expected battle with the White House over the add-ons is getting far less attention than debate over Iraq, but it could reveal a lot about how much Democrats will be able to rewrite the Republican president's budget later this year.
Bush has yet to veto a spending bill, and Democrats are gambling he'll sign the Iraq measure despite objections to spending he didn't seek. Republicans, meanwhile, may be reluctant to vote against the package since it contains funds for U.S. troops overseas.
Lawmakers from the Great Plains are pressing for about $4 billion in disaster aid for farmers suffering under drought conditions.
The California delegation is demanding help for citrus, avocado and other Central Valley farmers facing $1.2 billion in losses from a devastating January freeze. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., is a powerful ally in the effort to win the region unemployment, food and housing aid.
Gulf Coast lawmakers want $1.3 billion above the $3.4 billion requested by Bush for hurricane relief. Northwest lawmakers are desperate for about $400 million to extend payments to rural counties hurt by cutbacks in federal logging.
And governors are pressing for $745 million to address a shortfall in the State Children's Health Insurance Program that threatens to deny health coverage for about 500,000 children in 14 states. House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey, D-Wis., promised Tuesday that SCHIP money will be added to the Iraq bill.
Obey also has promised to add $3.1 billion for local communities affected by military base closings and for redeployment of 12,000 troops stationed in Germany and South Korea to domestic bases. To free funds for Democratic initiatives, that money was left out of a spending bill approved earlier in February.
Both Democrats and Republicans are pushing extra spending into the war funding bill as they seek to advance domestic priorities that would probably stall if advanced on their own.
That's not what the White House says should happen.
"This supplemental is about emergency spending for the global war on terror and we need to make sure we stay on that track," said budget office spokesman Sean Kevelighan.
Added House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio: "Our focus must be on supporting our troops in harm's way — without strings attached — not on using a military spending bill as an excuse to fund pork-barrel projects and other unrelated projects."
Bush and GOP leaders on Capitol Hill managed to keep prior war funding bills largely free of such budgetary add-ons when Republicans controlled Congress. Now that Democrats are in charge, the party's leaders are eager to use the cost of the war as leverage to force Bush to accept spending — such as aid to farmers — that he has successfully killed in the past.
"It's starting to become a train onto which a lot of baggage is being thrown that has got nothing to do with the war or really legitimate emergencies," said Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H.
Countered Obey: "We will only fund what is necessary."
Whatever is added to the bill in the House is likely to grow in the freer-spending Senate.