When the Senate Appropriations Committee approved its version of the $58.8 billion supplemental war-funding bill last week, it included $174,000 to be paid to the wife of deceased House defense spending cardinal John Murtha.
So is Murtha appropriating funds from beyond the grave? Nope. The money, equal to one year's salary, is a standard death benefit, aides from both parties confirmed. Murtha's next of kin are entitled to get the money in the next funding bill following his unfortunate and untimely passing. It's just a coincidence that the money will be in an "emergency" war funding bill.
Before his death in February, Murtha had been the man in charge of war-funding bills ever since the Democrats retook the House in 2006. As chairman of the defense appropriations subcommittee, he was famous for larding up supplemental legislation with billions each year in pet projects for the military services, defense contractors, and his hometown of Johnston, PA. The House leadership, also seeking to take advantage of the off-budget spending opportunity, would then come in and add billions more in items that had nothing to do with the military or national security at all. Your humble Cable guy, in a previous life, documented these add-ons in excruciating detail, and this year will be no different.
We can confirm reports today that the House is planning to bring up the war-funding bill as early as next week, hoping to somehow make the administration's Memorial Day deadline. Democratic lawmakers are planning to add a $23 billion fund for states to stave off teacher layoffs (and sway wayward left-leaning members of the caucus), which Republicans oppose.
But without GOP votes and knowing that as many as 100 or so anti-war Democrats will always vote against war spending, how will the House leadership get it passed? Our Hill sources are saying that the leadership is weighing splitting the bill into two parts, one with the war funding and another with the other stuff. The war funding would pass, with the entire Republicans caucus and some Democrats voting for it. The add-ons would pass with almost all Democrats voting yes and no GOP support whatsoever.
That's the current thinking, but things could change between now and Memorial Day, our sources warn. But if all goes ahead as planned, the two passed sections would then be joined through some procedural gymnastics and sent to the Senate as one bill. It's been done before, and always evokes cries of process corruption from Republicans. But it tends to work, and billions will go out in the "war-funding emergency" bill that have nothing to do with Iraq or Afghanistan.
John Hudson reports on national security and foreign policy from the Pentagon to Foggy Bottom, the White House to Embassy Row, for The Cable.