Marketplace Report: Senate Considers War Funding

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The U.S. military is expected to run out of money by May. Senators are likely to vote Tuesday on a contentious $106 billion dollar supplemental war and hurricane appropriations bill. Marketplace's John Dimsdale talks about the status of the bill, intended primarily to fund military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and provide hurricane relief along the Gulf Coast.

Alex CHADWICK, host:

Back now with DAY TO DAY, I'm Alex Chadwick.

In Washington, the Senate is hoping to finish work, this week, on the emergency spending package, but it has gotten complicated. This began as a White House request for $92 billion to pay for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and for post-Hurricane reconstruction in the Gulf of Mexico. But lawmakers have added on a lot of projects to the emergency spending bill and the cost is now up by $14 billion.

Joining us is John Dimsdale from Marketplace's Washington bureau. John, what all is in that $14 billion; what have they added in?

Mr. JOHN DIMSDALE (Reporter, Marketplace): There's a long list of extra programs. But you know, they're not real big; a few million here, a few million there. There's a $700 million plan to reroute a rail line in Mississippi that was damaged in Katrina. There's avian flu response. There's some additional money for helicopters, although, they're not going to Iraq. There's lots of farm assistance for drought and other agriculture emergencies; $4 billion worth of farm assistance. And that aid extends way beyond the Gulf area that was affected by the hurricanes.

There's a political calculation for spreading the wealth to other parts of the country, Steve Ellis with the watchdog group, Tax Payers for Commonsense, says the extra programs are there to help get the bill passed.

Mr. STEVE ELLIS (Member, Tax Payers for Commonsense): The reason why every agriculture entity from a citrus grower in Florida, to a rice farmer in Arkansas, to a rancher in Montana, to a cotton farmer in California, is getting this money, is because that's the way that you can get all the support. And members of Congress are pretty loathe to go against the farm lobby and to go against agriculture in election year.

CHADWICK: But John, what does the president have to say about these programs that are attached to this spending bill that he really needs?

Mr. DIMSDALE: Yeah, well he's threatening to veto it, because it does make the deficit worse. And he does have some support from conservative Republicans who are alarmed at the runaway spending. There's also a group of lawmakers who question the use of an emergency spending bill for a lot of these new programs that haven't gone through the normal budget process. There's one group of fiscal conservatives nearly enough to sustain a filibuster of the spending bill. They've signed a letter supporting the president's call for restraint.

CHADWICK: So talk of filibusters and vetos, what is this going to mean for the money for the war and for Katrina reconstruction; both of them badly needed?

Mr. DIMSDALE: You're right. There's a lot of deadline pressure on this bill. The military says it's set to run out of money later this month. But you know, the prospects aren't looking great for a quick deal, because there are so many pending amendments. The leaders in the Senate are gonna try for a vote tomorrow to cut off the debate and get to final passage. But there's one more complicating factor, some senators are talking about adding relief for high gasoline prices to the bill.

Now, you've heard the talk whether a rebate or a tax break--that's yet to be worked out. And it might even involve a debate over drilling for oil in Alaska. So this emergency spending bill could really get bogged down in the energy debate. But the goal is to get it through the Senate and have the differences with the House worked out and the White House hashed out, before Congress leaves for its Memorial Day break, at the end of May.

Coming up later today on Marketplace with today's immigration protests across the country, we're gonna take a look at the remittance economy; the money immigrant workers send back home.

CHADWICK: Thank you, John. John Dimsdale of public radio's daily business show, Marketplace, produced by American Public Media.

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