Supplemental clears committee with a new GOP backer in sight

The Senate’s $122 billion emergency supplemental cleared the Appropriations Committee yesterday as one senior Republican indicated he plans to vote for the measure on the floor.

Sen. Arlen Specter (Pa.) echoed fellow Republicans’ disapproval of using the war-spending bill to set a fixed date for troop withdrawal from Iraq during the markup, but said he would vote for the supplemental to preserve troop funding and reiterated his intentions afterward.

“I expect to vote for” the supplemental on the floor, Specter told The Hill, but said he hoped the Iraq redeployment language eventually would be stripped from the bill.

The supplemental passed by voice vote, with most Republicans opposed as Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) geared up for a floor fight reminiscent of last week’s debate over a resolution to set a 2008 target date for redeployment out of Iraq. GOP appropriators expressed reservations about the withdrawal language, a signal of strong opposition in light of the panel’s clubby atmosphere.

Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), the panel’s ranking member, said he would move to strike the withdrawal language on the floor. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) told reporters he would not attempt to block the motion, which, like the underlying supplemental, will need 60 votes to pass.

Reid also said he would not begin next week by filing for cloture on the supplemental, which would risk escalating the already sky-high partisan tension over the bill as President Bush continues to vow a veto.

McConnell issued a statement that stressed GOP lawmakers’ strong opposition to the withdrawal language but added, “We will, however, continue to give General [David] Petraeus the support and resources necessary to complete his important mission.”

The war-spending bill reflects Democrats’ eagerness to refocus the U.S. military mission on finding Osama bin Laden, the al Qaeda leader whose organization the bill summary notes “attacked the nation on 9/11” — underscoring Democrats’ distinction between the war in Iraq and the 2001 terrorist attacks.

The Senate’s supplemental diverges from the House version in several small but potentially significant ways. Senators added about $500 million more than the House for agricultural disaster aid and $240 million more for low-income home-heating aid; they also left out the minimum-wage increase that House leaders added to jumpstart stalled conference negotiations on that separately passed bill.