Senate OKs Defense Spending Bill With Health Care Funding
The Senate on Monday voted 92-3 to approve a $648 billion defense authorization bill (HR 1585) that includes nearly $950 million for military health care in fiscal year 2008, the Washington Times reports.
The bill now heads into conference with the House version. However, President Bush has said he would veto the legislation because of a provision that would protect gays under federal hate-crime laws. If it is vetoed, Bush would be the first president to veto a defense authorization bill (Miller, Washington Times, 10/2).
Four amendments were added to the bill on Thursday. One of the amendments would bar most personality disorder discharges from the military until the Pentagon submits a report on such discharges. Another amendment would ensure wounded veterans receive transitional care from the military for 180 days from the time the servicemember is separated from active duty. A third amendment would extend for one year current prohibitions on raising military health care fees and prescription drug copayments. The final amendment would permit National Guard and reserve members who have served two years of active-duty service to receive accelerated G.I. Bill educational benefits (California Healthline, 10/1).
Bush, who recently signed into law a continuing budget resolution (HJ Res 52), has threatened to veto eight of the 12 appropriations bills. Meanwhile, Democrats "challenged the president to be more open to negotiation instead of insisting his own budget targets be met," The Hill reports (Snyder, The Hill, 10/2).
Congressional Democrats are considering making the Labor-HHS-Education spending bill (HR 3043) the "next major domestic policy fight" with Bush after the debate over SCHIP reauthorization and expansion, according to CongressDaily.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) plans to begin debate on the $150 billion bill as early as Oct. 15, and according to sources, a conference committee "could quickly reconcile" differences between the House and Senate versions, CongressDaily reports.
The House has approved its version of the Labor-HHS-Education appropriations bill, but the measure did not pass with a veto-proof majority. Bush has threatened to veto the House bill because it contains $11 billion more than he requested. The Senate legislation (S 1710) contains about $9 billion more than Bush requested.
According to CongressDaily, the tactic Democrats will use in fighting for the Labor-HHS-Education spending bill will be similar to the standoff over SCHIP, "which Democrats perceive as a political winner despite lacking the votes to override a veto." Senate Appropriations Labor, HHS, Education and Related Agencies Subcommittee Chair Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) said sending Bush the Labor-HHS-Education bill would "demonstrate to the American people what our priorities are as Democrats. The priorities are health and education, human services, making sure the (Low Income Home Energy Assistance) program has enough money, making sure Pell Grants go out, making sure we have funding for biomedical research, cancer research, that's a very high priority," adding, "For the Republicans, it's not a very high priority, and that's why we're going to show that."
According to CongressDaily, Senate approval of the measure "is shaping up to be at least a weeklong battle with contentious debate over stem cell language," which also could draw a veto threat from Bush, as well as funding priorities and earmarks. A Senate GOP aide said Democrats will pay a political price if they "hold hostage" spending bills for veterans' programs and the Iraq war by prioritizing domestic programs (Cohn, CongressDaily, 10/2).
The U.S. "economy is confronting a very serious problem" as aging baby boomers begin retiring, "which will explode the cost of federal health and retirement programs, Senate Budget Committee Chair Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) and ranking member Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) write in a Manchester Union Leader opinion piece. They continue, "Health care entitlements and Social Security alone will absorb an increasingly larger portion of the federal budget ... and there is not a contingency plan in place."
Conrad and Gregg write that they "believe the solution lies in a balanced, bipartisan approach. Therefore, we have come together to offer the Bipartisan Task Force for Responsible Fiscal Action Act." According to Conrad and Gregg, the task force "will be charged with authoring bipartisan legislation to immediately begin addressing the nation's fiscal challenges" and "is designed to produce legislative solutions that Congress must vote on, not just bury in political debate."
They add, "The choices are difficult now, but the longer we wait, the harder they will become. The time for action is now" (Conrad/Gregg, Manchester Union Leader, 9/30).