War Funding, Farm Bill Leave Congress in Gridlock

Before leaving for Thanksgiving break on Friday, Congress fought along party lines about a farm bill and funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as presidential vetoes loomed.

Copyright © 2007 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

SCOTT SIMON, host:

Before going back to their districts yesterday for a two-week Thanksgiving break, the nation's lawmakers had quite a pre-holiday partisan fight. It was over everything - from money for the war in Iraq to freeing the farm bill that's been impaled on a procedural pitchfork. There were veto threats from the White House for Republican-minority filibusters and promises from the ruling Democrats that everything might eventually work out.

NPR's David Welna had a ringside seat to the U.S. Capitol.

DAVID WELNA: With House members having already left town, Senate Democrats yesterday tried taking up an Iraq War-funding bill the House had narrowly passed Wednesday. It was a so-called bridge fund for $50 billion, far less than the nearly $200 billion President Bush wants.

It also had a big string attached - the stated goal of bringing most U.S. troops home by December of next year. But Republicans kept Democrats from getting the 60 votes needed to consider the bill, and Arizona's Jon Kyl declared the time had come to get real.

Senator JON KYL (Republican, Arizona): The Democrat leaders are going to have to finally swallow their political pride here I guess and provide funding for the troops.

WELNA: Connecticut Democrat and presidential contender Chris Dodd flew all the way back from a candidate's debate in Las Vegas to vote. He, too, voted against the bridge fund, the only Democrat to do so, but because he found the strings attached to the bill to be too weak.

Senator CHRIS DODD (Democrat, Connecticut): I just find that sort of we're wasting our time, I mean, to a large degree. And I think it's - and it's not clear to people out there what this all means. And most people I'm talking to believe this thing ought to be coming to an end and stopping it.

WELNA: It's not at all clear whether Democrats will take another stamp this year at funding a war most of them oppose. Majority Leader Harry Reid said that there is no more war money; President Bush will have to answer for that.

Senator HARRY REID (Democrat, Nevada; Majority Leader): He had the offer of getting another 50 billion with a few accountability standards and that he refused that. So we'll see what happens. We may have to wait until after the first year.

WELNA: Four Republicans voted with Democrats to have war money with strings attached. One of them was Maine's Olympia Snowe, who afterwards bemoaned a climate of intransigence in the Capitol.

Senator OLYMPIA SNOWE (Republican, Maryland): I think it's tragic. And I think it's just really gets back to illustrating the poisonous, partisan, polarizing atmosphere that's enveloped the Congress and in the Senate.

WELNA: The Iraq vote followed a 10-day long Republican filibuster of a big farm bill. Senate Democrats tried to end that filibuster, but Republican Leader Mitch McConnell kept his troops in line.

Senator MITCH McCONNELL (Republican, Kentucky; Minority Leader): The farm bill will not pass today because the games have not stopped. But I will confidently predict, Mr. President, at some point, they will stop.

WELNA: Perhaps. But when Democrats tried bringing up other bills dealing with the subprime lending crisis and affixed to the alternative minimum tax, McConnell seemed to be repeating a mantra.

Sen. McCONNELL: Mr. President, I object.

WELNA: And so a pile of bills is stalled in the Senate, and a spade of presidential veto threats awaits others, including most of the annual spending bills.

Montana Democrat Max Baucus lamented the standoff.

Senator MAX BAUCUS (Democrat, Montana): And it looks like now we're going to wait until certainly after Thanksgiving. It looks like probably we have to wait until the end of the year. Who knows when? Maybe a day before Christmas. And that's not the way to do business around here.

WELNA: But that's often the way things do get done here. At the very last minute, there was one grace note as senators left town. Alaska Republican Ted Stevens rose on the Senate floor to commemorate West Virginia Democrat Robert Byrd's 90th birthday.

Senator TED STEVENS (Republican, Alaska): I've come here today to congratulate the senator from West Virginia, not only for his service to our nation and to the Senate, for his longevity. He's the only senator that is older than I am.

WELNA: Stevens himself turns 84 tomorrow.

David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.

Copyright © 2007 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Senate Rejects $50 Billion War Spending Bill

A war spending bill failed to clear the Senate on Friday, days after making it through the House.

The $50 billion bill to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan was attached to a Democratic proposal to require the troops to begin coming home.

The Senate's 53-45 vote fell seven votes short of the 60 needed to advance.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said the only way to get troops the money was to approve the restrictions outlined by Democrats.

"Our troops continue to fight and die valiantly, and our Treasury continues to be depleted rapidly, for a peace that we seem far more interested in achieving than Iraq's own political leaders," the Nevada Democrat said.

The vote came after the Senate also rejected a proposal from Republicans that would continue to fund the war without any contingencies.

The Republican proposal received even less support, garnering just 45 votes — 15 short of what's needed — and 53 against it.

Republicans charged that Democrats were being irresponsible.

"We need to get our troops everything they need," said Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell from Kentucky. "We need to get it to them right now."

Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) had said earlier in the week that they would delay, until January, sending President Bush a spending bill this year if Congress didn't pass it with the conditions for troop withdrawal.

But holding off sending a war-spending bill until after returning from holiday break is bound to deepen the Democrats' rift with the White House on the war because the Pentagon would be without means.

The Pentagon has said it would have to lay off civilian workers to deal with any shortfall.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Thursday that unless Congress passes funding for the war, he will direct the Army and Marine Corps to begin developing plans to lay off employees and terminate contracts early next year.

Democrats don't seem to be swayed, responding that the Pentagon can eat into its $471 billion annual budget without being forced to take drastic steps.

"The days of a free lunch are over," said Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY).

At the White House on Friday, deputy press secretary Tony Fratto said: "We'd rather see the Department of Defense, the military planners and our troops focusing on military maneuvers rather than accounting maneuvers as they carry out their mission in the field."

Gates has said he has the flexibility to transfer only about $3.7 billion, which is one week's worth of war expenses.

From NPR reports and The Associated Press

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.