Bills to provide a new round of funds for the Iraq war also are carrying billions of federal construction dollars for domestic projects. The White House has threatened a veto if the supplemental spending measures go beyond military funds, but Democrats are moving ahead. The Senate Appropriations Committee is slated to take up its version on May 15. House Democrats may bring their bill to the floor at about the same time.
The big construction item in the House and Senate bills is $5.8 billion for the Army Corps of Engineers for further improvements to Louisiana levees. President Bush requested the funds earlier this year, for fiscal 2009. Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) says the money would finance upgrades to withstand a 100-year storm. She also says the Senate draft bill, proposed by Appropriations Chairman Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.), keeps the state’s matching share at 25% or 30%, depending on the project. She says Bush proposed raising the state’s share to 35%.
Although the levee money isn’t expected to be made available until after Oct. 1, when fiscal 2009 begins, the supplemental may be the only spending bill to be enacted before November’s elections, says John Doyle, Waterways Council Inc. vice president for government relations. “The supplemental is going to happen,” he says. “Any other appropriation vehicle is a wild-card game.”
Both bills also contain substantial Dept. of Defense construction aid. The House version has $4.6 billion for DOD projects, including $939 million for Base Relignment and Closure work and $956 million for DOD hospitals. Byrd’s Senate proposal includes $700 million for barracks improvements.
Byrd’s plan has $451 million to reimburse states for road-repair costs incurred after natural disasters since 2005. David Bauer, American Road & Transportation Builders Association senior vice president for government relations, says there is a backlog of emergency needs. “Anything that can be done in that area is a positive step,” he says.
The House bill was supposed to hit the floor in the week of May 5, but it ran into problems with conservative Democrats. Byrd put off a planned May 8 Senate committee vote on his proposal because of the House delay.
Still, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said on May 8 she was certain things could be worked out among Democrats and expects agreement with the Senate on a final bill before the Memorial Day recess. But meeting that timetable will be tough to achieve.