Enormous mounds of virtual cash will start to be divvied up and doled out this week, as issues carrying huge price tags come to the fore.
Democrats plan to start by putting the finishing touches on their $3.5 trillion fiscal 2010 budget blueprint, which is notable for the use of fast-track reconciliation rules to stick it to filibuster-loving Republicans on health care, and for the record-setting explosion of debt it allows.
The budget, which could be on the House floor as soon as Tuesday, would give Democrats an important symbolic victory as they mark President Barack Obama’s first 100 days in office Wednesday, and it sets the stage for Democrats to start moving appropriations bills.
“We’ll have a clear way forward on our priorities and that’s something that we are very proud of,— said Nadeam Elshami, spokesman for Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).
Liberals are ecstatic over the inclusion of reconciliation protections for health care, one House staffer said. “For progressives, that’s huge. … It’s going to give those who are pushing for health care reform such a bigger club to swing.—
House Democrats were a key force pushing for reconciliation, wary of having their top priority held hostage.
“It would be irresponsible I think on our part if we sat back and said we’re not going to take the action necessary to get health care passed,— a House leadership aide said.
But while the budget is taking center stage, two other high-priced issues — global warming and war spending — are the subject of intense negotiations this week.
After a week of hearings highlighted by testimony from former Vice President Al Gore last week on climate change, Democratic chairmen were offering up billions of dollars in credits behind the scenes to win the votes of conservative Democrats worried about coal, oil, steel and other industries in their districts.
They hope to make enough progress to hold a subcommittee markup this week.
Progressives have been worried that too much will be given away to appease powerful industries, but Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Subcommittee on Energy and Environment Chairman Ed Markey (D-Mass.) have significant credibility with them, and liberals seem willing to compromise on energy to get a deal.
That’s true in particular because the political landscape is rougher for energy than for health care, particularly in the Senate, and progressives are more realistic about what is achievable, one staffer said.
Republicans are ripping the deal on the other side of the aisle.
“Former Vice President Gore deserves another Oscar for his testimony on the Democrats’ plans for a massive national energy tax on every American,— chided House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio). “As Mr. Gore spoke to the television cameras in the committee chamber, news reports indicate that behind the scenes, Democrats are wheeling and dealing, trying to buy votes for this disastrous bill with your taxpayer dollars.—
Lawmakers are also wrangling over the $83 billion war supplemental that could grow as lawmakers seek to protect pet programs, like the C-17 transport plane, from Defense Department budget cuts, although the bill is expected to be far more bipartisan. Liberal lawmakers are expected to bring up the supplemental in their meeting with Obama on Tuesday and push for a greater emphasis on diplomatic spending and less on war. Liberals are also nervous about the lack of benchmarks or an exit strategy for Afghanistan, and House Appropriations Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.) has expressed doubts about the mission.
Staffers said negotiations are expected to be in full swing this week in advance of a potential markup next week, with floor action as early as the week of May 11.
And while there is always pressure to add extraneous items to the must-pass supplemental bill, Pelosi has told Members she wants to avoid adding controversial items — as it’s already controversial enough.
Democrats also have to resolve a dispute over whether to include a provision freeing up $100 billion sought by Obama for the International Monetary Fund. Obey has questioned whether that money should be included given that the Europeans have not been as active in providing fiscal stimulus to get the economy moving again, but Financial Services Chairman Barney Frank (D-Mass.) said he supports moving forward with the provision as fast as possible because he doesn’t think withholding the money would be enough leverage to get the Europeans to act.