After a flurry of last-minute number changes, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Dave Obey (D-Wis.) unveiled a three-step process Tuesday for the House consideration of an emergency $183.7 billion wartime spending bill, possibly as early as this week.
In a press conference, Obey said the House will hold three votes related to different components: the first on military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, the second on conditions to be imposed on the defense funds, and the third on a set of domestic initiatives, not all of which are reflected in the chairman's price-tag.
Chief among these are an extension of unemployment insurance benefits, expected to cost between $11 billion to $12 billion over 10 years, and a landmark expansion of education benefits for veterans who have served since the 2001 terrorist attacks.
Regarding Iraq, the bill is expected to call for the administration to immediately begin a withdrawal with the goal of removing troops in Iraq from a combat role by December 31, 2009.
The first vote will be a "clean shot up or down" on war funding, according to Obey.
President Bush has asked for an additional $100 billion to fund the operations in Iraq and Afghanistan through the end of this fiscal year, Sept. 30. An estimated $66 billion more for defense has been requested for the first portion of fiscal 2009, beginning Oct. 1.
Obey stressed that with the exception of unemployment insurance and veterans' benefits, the bill will not exceed the President's funding request. Obey said Democrats pared $3.4 billion from the bill in order to attach additional priorities and still comply with the president's overall cap.
The second vote will be on whether to impose a set of conditions on the war funding. These will include proposals that would limit the length of deployment of U.S. soldiers, prevent a permanent status of forces agreement with Iraq and limit interrogation techniques used on detainees. The second vote will also contain a measure forcing the Iraqi government to accept a greater responsibility for the cost of reconstruction.
The third vote would focus on largely domestic concerns, although it will also include $500 million more than the president's request for food aid overseas, Obey said. Apart from unemployment insurance and the expanded GI bill, an estimated $3.2 billion would be provided for military base construction projects and hospitals, and the bill would also advance about $5.8 billion for levee construction in Louisiana.
"We are trying to construct a process that is fair to the House as a whole, fair to the administration and fair to those who differ with the administration," said Obey.
David Rogers contributed to this post.