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Senate Appropriations Approves Iraq Supplemental With a Few Extra Earmarks

Senate appropriators approved a multibillion dollar Iraq War supplemental package today that includes provisions setting up a tentative timetable for withdrawal of U.S. forces in Iraq, but not before lawmakers inserted a number of high-priced domestic earmarks into the measure.

The panel approved the supplemental by a voice vote.

Although Republicans on the committee offered several amendments to strip the withdrawal language during the Appropriations Committee markup Thursday afternoon, none were voted on as a courtesy to Sen. Tim Johnson (D-S.D.), who remains in a rehabilitation facility and missed the meeting.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) scored a major victory Wednesday when Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) agreed to back the Iraq language.

Nelson, who voted against Reid’s original proposal last week, signed off on the provision after Chairman Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) inserted language backed by Nelson that would create a series of benchmarks for the Iraqi government to meet in order for U.S. forces to remain involved in the country as well as a provision requiring periodic reports to Congress by military officials.

Nelson also dropped his objections after it was made clear that the language’s pull-out timetable is not a hard deadline but rather a flexible goal for the military to meet. Those alterations “change the actual complexion” of the language, Nelson noted during the markup.

The panel approved a number of new domestic earmarks, including a provision proposed by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) which would increase the Medicaid prescription drug rebate drug manufacturers pay to the federal government, as well as a one-month increase in a dairy subsidy proposed by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) which Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho) warned would cost more than $1.2 billion.

“We keep adding money to this very cumbersome bill and it may fall under its own weight,” Craig warned.

Meanwhile, Reid said Thursday he had decided to make a run at immigration reform legislation this spring, marking off the last two weeks before the Memorial Day recess. Reid said that lawmakers and the White House have been holding constructive talks in recent weeks and that the chances of passing some reform appeared good.

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) — an outspoken critic of last year’s proposals because they included provisions allowing illegal immigrants to remain in the country — agreed that talks have been constructive. And while he expressed reservations about current proposals in the House, he expressed confidence that an accord could be reached.

“I don’t want to overstate it but I do think there’s a more realistic discussion going on,” Sessions said.

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