WASHINGTON – Congressional Democrats unveiled legislation Tuesday to keep the government running until mid-November, giving them more time to bridge gaping differences with President Bush over the budget.
The stopgap legislation is needed as the Oct. 1 start of the fiscal year looms with none of the 12 annual spending bills, which fund government agencies and departments, passed into law.
At the same time, the bill temporarily extends health coverage for children from low-income families as Congress and Bush wrangle over how much to expand the program, the State Children's Health Insurance Program, or SCHIP.
The House is poised to pass a compromise SCHIP measure later Tuesday, but Bush has promised a veto of the measure as too expensive. The house is slated to pass the measure Wednesday.
Only four of the annual appropriations bills have passed both House and Senate, and Democrats don't seem eager to start a protracted veto battle that would underscore the vulnerability of their position. Some lawmakers are already worried that the battles with Bush could keep Congress in session until Christmas.
The stopgap spending bill would fund at current levels the budgets of 15 Cabinet departments and dozens of agencies until Nov. 16.
The measure also provides $5.2 billion to provide additional heavy armored vehicles that offer better protection to troops in Iraq from roadside bombs.
The measure also provides unspecified additional resources for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan that lawmakers believe will provide enough to maintain the accelerated tempo in Iraq until Congress and Bush sort out his huge request for the war.
The measure assumes a funding level for Pentagon operations in Iraq and Afghanistan of $70 billion for all of 2008, far less than what will be needed. Less than $10 billion of that funding is designed be available through Nov. 16, but the administration has emergency authority to tap further into the $70 billion "bridge fund," said a senior House Appropriations Committee staff aide.
Bush has already asked Congress $147 billion for the 2008 war effort, and a request for another $45 billion or so is in the works.