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Democrats Push Continuing Resolution Funding Measure Through March 6

00:00AM Sep 23, 2008

via a special arrangement with Informa Economics, Inc.

But oil drilling language bringing opposition, and likely White House veto threat

NOTE: This column is copyrighted material, therefore reproduction or retransmission is prohibited under U.S. copyright laws.

Democratic congressional leadership is pushing a five-month stopgap spending measure that would keep the government funded through March 6, including $25 billion in government-backed loans for the auto industry ($7.5 billion for the credit subsidy of up to $25 billion), new offshore-drilling rules, $5.1 billion for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP; $2.5 billion designated as emergency funds), the 2010 Census, veterans' medical programs, and possibly more add ons.

The CR would fund most federal government programs at Fiscal Year 2008 levels through March 6, unless Congress acts before that. None of the Fiscal Year 2009 appropriations bills have been enacted. Appropriators are still working to complete three of 12 appropriations bills — Defense, Military Construction-Veterans Affairs and Homeland Security — and package them together.

There would be some exceptions where the FY 2008 spending baseline would not apply and the CR specifies the new fiscal 2009 spending total. Spending for these accounts generally would be higher than under the baseline. For example, the Women Infants and Children (WIC) program would be funded at $6.658 billion.

Importantly, the draft would extend the Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) program.

If the White House objects to the add ons and other language in the CR, its expiration could be shortened to soon after the Nov. 4 elections.

Democratic leaders stressed that the current CR language is a draft and subject to significant changes during the next day or so.

Some lawmakers want to have the CR serve as a vehicle for infrastructure projects, Medicaid funding for states, an extension of unemployment insurance, and disaster relief funding, probably in the $20 billion range, to deal with recent hurricanes, floods and wildfires.

The draft bill also includes $2.4 billion in “recurring emergency funding” — emergency spending from the previous year that Congress decides is necessary again. The White House requested most of those provisions on Sept. 5. The biggest is $1.1 billion for building a fence along the southern border as part of the Department of Homeland Security’s Secure Border Initiative. Other funding directed at immigration enforcement programs includes $516 million for the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency and $60 million for the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ E-Verify program.

The draft bill includes controversial language on offshore drilling. Instead of allowing a moratorium on offshore oil and gas drilling to expire on Oct. 1, the draft proposal would incorporate language from House legislation (HR 6899) that would do away with the ban but substitute other restrictions. The bill would allow drilling 100 miles offshore and give states the option of permitting exploration as close as 50 miles from shore. It also would lift a federal ban on developing oil shale in the Rocky Mountain region if states sign off. But the language does not provide for revenue sharing with states.

The draft is drawing opposition from Republicans and possibly in the Senate, where pro-drilling Democrats such as Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Jim Webb of Virginia have pushed for language that would let states share any revenue from offshore drilling. That language is missing from the House bill, and opponents say no state will opt in to drilling without the financial incentive. Including the drilling language would likely draw a White House veto threat.

House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) accused the House Democratic plan of trying to “permanently lock up almost 90 percent of the best energy resources on the Outer Continental Shelf, while blocking exploration of a trillion barrels of oil in the Inter-Mountain West.”

Comments: Look for several important changes in the CR before final passage is assured.

Both political parties and the White House are seeking leverage on a host of issues. White House officials are hoping for a lame-duck session during which they can accomplish unfinished goals such as passage of a free-trade deal with Colombia.

NOTE: This column is copyrighted material, therefore reproduction or retransmission is prohibited under U.S. copyright laws.