Congress Considers Quarter-Trillion in New Spending This Week

Published May 25, 2010. By Patricia Murphy. In Politics Daily.

With the federal deficit already projected to hit $1.37 trillion for 2010, Congress will consider two proposals this week that would take that number as much as a quarter of a trillion dollars higher. The bills -- a package of tax cuts and safety-net provisions in the House, and an emergency spending bill to pay for fighting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan -- are already facing bipartisan opposition, both because of the programs being funded and the sheer dollar amounts that lawmakers are being asked to approve in an election year. (And it's an election year that has already seen several high-spending incumbents sent packing by voters anxious over unprecedented levels of federal spending.) The House will begin debate Tuesday on a $174 billion measure to extend several expiring tax cuts and programs, including $47 billion to extend unemployment benefits and health insurance for people looking for jobs through the end of the year. Another $63 billion would put off until 2015 the planned rate cut for doctors who treat Medicare patients; $24 billion will help states pay for Medicaid; and $6 billion will go to a summer jobs program important to black lawmakers. Although the House plans to end several tax loopholes to partially pay for the extenders bill, Cliff Isenberg, the chief budget counsel at the non-partisan Concord Coalition, said that both bills will ultimately add to the federal deficit. "Our view is that with the deficit at over a trillion dollars, there really should be more offsets in the bill," Isenberg said. "We're on a path that is fiscally unsustainable." Rep. Dave Camp, R-Mich., ranking member of the Ways and Means Committee that wrote much of the bill, will oppose it. "The massive and unprecedented deficit spending in the stimulus bill didn't create jobs and neither will this bill," Camp said Monday.

Compounding the political challenges from the right over the cost of the spending bills, Democratic leaders will also face resistance from members on the left, who want the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to end. "What I believe will work is the one thing we haven't tried in 8½ years -- ending this war once and for all," Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.) said Monday. "Our continued military presence cannot solve Afghanistan's problems. It can only exacerbate them. It's time to bring our troops home." Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid defended both spending measures on the Senate floor Monday, calling the extenders bill "something we can be proud to support and something each of our states desperately needs," and issuing a preemptive defense of the war funding bill that the Senate will begin debating Tuesday. "I've heard some say they stand in the way of this bill -- I can think of no worse message to send our troops on Memorial Day than that," Reid said. The $59 billion measure will pay for this year's costs to fight the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, including the surge of 30,000 troops requested by President Obama, which totals $33 billion. Also in the bill is nearly $1 billion dollars for earthquake recovery in Haiti, $485 million for disaster recovery in Tennessee and elsewhere, and $68 million for short-term Gulf oil spill relief, which will certainly increase.

Sen. Dan Inouye (D-Hawaii), chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, which wrote the bill, called it "austere and responsible." "The rhetoric on federal spending in the last few months has focused solely on what was spent, rather than on what was necessary, and what is still required," Inouye said. "I want to inform all my colleagues that this bill is neither a bailout nor a stimulus. It is the minimum necessary to support our troops in harm's way and to meet emergency domestic and international requirements. We cannot stop investing in our nation simply because of high deficits." But several of Inouye's fellow senators have grown weary of the repeated requests for deficit spending and several will oppose the two spending bills this week for that reason. Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), a likely no vote, called the emergency label on the war funding bill "a farce." "By definition, emergency spending must be unforeseen. The last day war funding was unforeseen was September 10, 2001," he said. "As currently written, this bill is for the politicians, not the troops." Coburn will be one of several senators of both parties who will introduce amendments to the bill, either to suggest ways to pay for it or to change the way Congress spends money altogether. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) said Monday that he and Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) will again introduce their amendment to require a two-thirds vote by Congress to exceed discretionary spending levels. That amendment fell one vote shy of passing the Senate in March and elicited a memorable rant from McCaskill on the Senate floor.

"Everybody in America is cutting back except Washington," McCaskill said. "America doesn't think we get it. And you know what? They're right. We don't."