After settling a fight over "earmarked" funding, House appropriators have pushed the first of the fiscal 2008 spending bills through the chamber. But if the Senate matches the House measures� funding totals, the bills may be vetoed.
Even so, the spending bills "seem to be moving forward in a quick pace," says Karen Bachman, Associated General Contractors' congressional relations director for environment, federal markets and procurement. For construction programs, "There have been some good numbers coming out of the bills,' she adds.
In two bills that cleared the House on June 15, port and rail security grants as well as Veterans Affairs and most military construction accounts are over 2007 levels. Corps of Engineers construction programs are down sharply, but comparisons are skewed because 2007 totals include about $1.6 billion in emergency funds, mostly for Gulf Coast rebuilding.
The earmark dispute slowed the bills a bit. Democrats, led by Appropriations Chairman David Obey (Wis.), wanted to delay allocations for specified projects until later in the process. The GOP balked. Appropriations� top Republican, Jerry Lewis (Calif.), contended, "It is our job, the job of Congress and this committee, to determine how federal dollars are spent." Obey�s side agreed to include earmarks in remaining bills. Lewis� side let the first three proceed without earmarks, with the understanding that they would be included in them later.
Appropriations Bills' Results, So Far
|Military Construction and Veterans Affairs|
|DOD family housing construction|
|Other military construction|
|Base realignment and closure|
|VA major construction|
|Airport explosive-detection systems|
|Port security grants|
|Rail, transit grants|
|Energy and Water**|
|Corps construction and flood control|
|Bureau of Reclamation|
|DOE defense environmental cleanup|
**Floor vote expected 6/19 or 6/20
Source: House and senate Appropriations Committees; ENR
The White House is taking a tough line, threatening vetoes on two of the first three spending bills to reach the House floor. Its main objection is that their funding is too high.
The threat won't harm the House military construction-VA bill, even if the Senate equals its spending levels. The House passed the milcon-VA bill 409-2, well above the two-thirds majority to override a veto. The homeland security bill is more at risk, passing 268-150, slightly below the two-thirds mark.
AGC�s Bachman notes that it's early in the 2008 appropriations round. Still ahead are Senate floor votes and House-Senate conferees� negotiations. Any veto is "a long way off," she says. "I think we have to see the final conference reports."