WASHINGTON – Even as Democrats controlling Congress continue to struggle with a long-overdue war funding bill, they are starting work on a series of spending measures for next year that are doomed by veto promises from President Bush.
The first of those 12 bills, funding agency budgets for the budget year beginning Oct. 1, would award an almost 6 percent increase to the Homeland Security Department. A House Appropriations panel approved the $39.9 billion measure unanimously on Wednesday.
The measure is likely to earn a Bush veto threat for costing too much and it's unclear whether Democrats will even try to send the measure to the White House.
Some Democratic leaders have suggested they'll wait until next year to wrap up the 12 annual spending bills in hopes of dealing with a more flexible Democratic administration.
Meanwhile, an internal party battle over how to try to pass an extension of unemployment benefits — combined with difficult negotiations with the White House — has stalled House action on $165.4 billion in Senate-passed funding for Pentagon operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In fact, progress has been made behind the scenes with White House negotiators over the outlines of a bill Bush would be willing to sign. The president strenuously opposes a blanket 13-week extension of unemployment payments for people whose benefits have run out.
Democrats such as Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey of Wisconsin want to strip the unemployment insurance extension out of the war funding bill in order to get the measure passed into law.
A separate unemployment insurance measure is expected to pass the House on Wednesday in an attempt to resolve differences among Democrats and help advance the war funding bill next week.
On the Homeland Security budget, the House panel restored $2 billion worth of cuts proposed by Bush to grants for first responders and port security.
The bill also provides the administration's $775 million request to continue construction of a fence and other security measures along the U.S.-Mexico border.