How a bill becomes a part of a war supplemental
I made some calls Monday afternoon to check on the status of Tom Harkin's effort to get $27 billion to help schools around the country avoid crippling layoffs. You'd think that would've been straightforward enough, but you (probably) don't report on Congress for a living.
There's no standalone vehicle with the $27 billion. Instead, Harkin was going to offer it as an amendment to the war supplemental. But though he had more than 50 senators on his side, he didn't have the necessary 60, so he didn't force the vote. Rather, it seemed that Rep. David Obey, the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, was going to add the money into the House's version of the war supplemental. That hasn't happened yet, but if it does happen, and if that supplemental passes the House, then the hope is that the Senate will adopt Obey's education language when the two bills go to conference committee, and there will be 60 senators willing to vote "aye" on the final package. If it doesn't happen, well, there doesn't really seem to be a plan B for passing this bill.
The baroque process happens to be a reminder, though, of the many high-cost war supplementals Congress has passed. These were pricey bills to fund the Iraq and Afghanistan wars (and other priorities that got attached). They weren't built into the budget. Nothing was done to offset their spending. And all of them passed. Now that we're dealing with an economic disaster at home, there's no similar willingness to bend the rules and spend what's needed to get the job done. And the irony is that supplemental measures make more sense in this context: You're supposed to increase deficits during a recession, and this money would do a lot more good for the country than, say, a senseless war in Iraq.