President Bush's supplemental spending bill continued to rankle many House Republicans yesterday as the committee chairman charged with its passage promised to comb closely through the president's request.
"The committee is going to scrub this very heavily," Appropriations Committee Chairman Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.) said during a briefing with reporters.
Calling the bill a "high priority," Lewis said his newly revamped committee was fully supportive of the president's priorities, especially with regard to troop funding, but would not ignore its oversight responsibility. He said he is most concerned with the provisions in the bill that he said should not be classified as emergency spending items.
Despite the intense scrutiny, Lewis said he did not expect the committee's work on the supplemental to slow the goal of moving all 10 appropriations bills quickly on to the Senate.
"We will have the House bills completed this spring," Lewis said. "The supplemental is not going to get in the way of getting our work done."
House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) told reporters that he planned to schedule a floor vote on the supplemental the week before the Easter recess.
Neither DeLay, Lewis nor Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), who also attended the briefing, said whether the Real ID Act, which passed the House last week, would be attached to the House supplemental bill.
Lewis's remarks came after a wide swath of House Republicans raised numerous objections about the president's request during meetings with leadership the past two days. Their complaints centered on the nonemergency spending items that were included in the bill, from increased aid for tsunami relief to funding for a U.S. embassy in Baghdad.
During yesterday's conference meeting, Reps. Jeff FlakeJeff FlakeSenate votes to block internet privacy regulations With no emerging leaders, no clear message, Democrats flounder Top Trump aide calls GOP senator a 'hater' MORE (R-Ariz.), Mike Pence (R-Ind.), Ernest Istook (R-Okla.) and Walter Jones Jr. (R-N.C.), among others, raised particular concerns about the bill, according to aides at the meeting.
And rank-and-file members are not alone. House leadership shares many of their concerns, according to one senior leadership aide, especially those items that leadership does not feel should be labeled as emergency spending.
A week after the White House issued its tight budget, with strict limits on discretionary spending, members and aides throughout the conference complained that the supplemental spending bill for Iraq included too many items that should be passed separately.
Included in the president's $81.9 billion supplemental spending bill are requests for $500 million for the embassy in Baghdad and a $900 million request for United Nations peacekeeping.
"My view of supplementals is that they be limited to emergency spending only," said Rep. Tom Feeney (R-Fla.), who took particular exception with the money allocated to the United Nations.
Feeney said the United Nations has an "inept" and "criminally negligent" peacekeeping record, citing massacres in Bosnia and Rwanda that occurred while the United Nations was monitoring those countries. He also mentioned the recent oil-for-food scandal.
"Nobody has done a worse job protecting people in peacekeeping operations than the U.N.," Feeney said.
Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fla.) told members of the whip team during their Tuesday-afternoon meeting that he was upset with the $950 million set aside for tsunami relief - $600 million more than the president initially promised - when many of his constituents were still awaiting damage checks from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) after the hurricanes that swept through his district last fall.
"It will be extremely difficult to support a multibillion-dollar tsunami-relief package for foreign nations when my own constituents are going bankrupt," Foley told FEMA officials yesterday, as a follow up to his remarks Tuesday. "There will be a taxpayer revolt in my district."
Members of the Florida delegation met with county representatives yesterday afternoon to discuss some of these concerns.
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) supported Foley's contention and expressed concern about the $200 million earmarked for the Palestinian Authority.
"It's a delicate balancing act," Ros-Lehtinen said. "We want to make sure our needs are met."
A senior leadership aide said, "The president asked us to rein in spending and cut the deficit, and at the same time, we're asked to look at a supplemental spending bill that includes things that shouldn't be emergency spending. … Now is the time to take a hard look at spending."