With new requests from the White House Tuesday night, a wartime spending bill could soon exceed $100 billion, adding to the risks of an already tense fight in the House over the addition of new financing for the International Monetary Fund.
In a letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi, President Barack Obama said he was acting out of an “abundance of caution” in asking that $2 billion be added to the package to address the potential threat of the H1N1 flu next winter.
The president also asked for an additional $200 million in foreign aid to address the refugee crisis amid the fighting in Pakistan, where an estimated 2.5 million people are now displaced.
But to get to his goal, the new president will have to first swallow a dose of the same old-school Capitol politics he had pledged to change after moving into the White House.
As part of the final House-Senate bargaining, hundreds of millions of dollars are expected to go to home-state Mississippi projects favored by Republican Sen. Thad Cochran, who was crucial to helping the bill move through the Senate. Billions more in foreign aid and defense funds are being added as part of a thinly veiled budget game shifting costs from 2010 into the current fiscal year.
Just months ago, the White House had vowed to accept no earmarks or excess spending in the bill. But Cochran’s projects — including $489 million to restore barrier islands important to Mississippi’s vulnerable coast — were stubbornly defended by Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), an Obama ally but also a realpolitik operator not willing to desert his partner in this fight.
“This poses some interesting choices for Obama,” Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) told POLITICO. “He said, ‘No earmarks.’ Will he backtrack and sign it?”
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