I’m Elizabeth Wynne Johnson of Capitol News Connection. This Week in Congress...
The countdown to Memorial Day recess means one thing on Capitol Hill: cram it in. Focus this week shifted to the war supplemental and a tax-extenders bill, each morphing in size and significance as various provisions were tacked on and lopped off. In the end, the war spending bill would include $70 billion to help with the oil spill, but not the $23 billion to help forestall teacher layoffs.
Sen. Thad Cochran is the top Republican on Appropriations.
COCHRAN: Adding additional costs to this bill will exacerbate our nation’s fiscal imbalance and potentially jeopardize our ability to get needed resources to our men and women in harm’s way in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Sen. Tom Harkin had wanted to attach teacher-funding to the war spending bill, but the Iowa Democrat pulled back when he saw the anti-deficit writing on the wall.
HARKIN: Well, I have more than 50 votes; I don’t have 60 so I am looking for other ways to getting the funding.
Speaking of frustration...late this week, New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez shared his takeaway from ongoing hearings about the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster.
MENENDEZ" We have learned...that there is no such thing as ‘too safe to spill.’
He said they’ve also learned not to trust the oil industry’s assurances about its ability to handle a problem at the bottom of the sea. His conclusion:
MENENDEZ: If sound science is going to drive this administration, then there shouldn’t be a moratorium...there should be an outright ban on off-shore drilling at the end of the day. That’s what we want. That’s what will guarantee a multi-billion dollar coastal economy.
Also taking shape this week, a compromise in the hard-fought debate over repealing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. Connecticut Independent Joe Lieberman had been a key player in the negotiations in the Senate Armed Services Committee.
LIEBERMAN: I’m encouraged right now, but you know I’ve been around here long enough to know you don’t know until the roll is called.
It was, and the measure made it out of committee on Thursday. The House, meanwhile, had introduced a repeal of ‘Don’t Ask’ as an amendment to its defense spending bill. Arizona Republican, Trent Franks?
FRANKS: The Democrats always use the defense bill to carry their social policy, and it’s an insult to the troops and a disgrace to this institution when they do that.
In fairness, he did add:
FRANKS: If Republicans do it, I’d say the same thing.
Pretty much the final word, however, was had by House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer.
HOYER: I want my friends to listen...and they’re not going to like this...
It began with a comparison back to his own memories of the 1950s, when he was a student in college and the civil rights movement was coming into its own.
HOYER: When there were some Americans you didn’t have to ask, they didn’t have to tell, because you knew they were African-Americans. There was no hiding that. And we segregated them...This bill is about making sure that America is safe. This bill is about making sure that we defeat terrorism and keep America safe. Let’s focus on that, let’s not be distracted. Let’s focus on protecting America, defeating terrorists and taking care of our troops.
The week would end with an uneasy resolution in the matter of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell: the House passed the repeal amendment. And on its way out the door, the House also passed a trimmed-down version of a tax-extenders bill that includes an extension of unemployment benefits through November. Too late for the Senate to act on that bill before the recess, but it’ll be the first order of business when Congress returns the following week.
That was This Week in Congress. I’m Elizabeth Wynne Johnson, Capitol News Connection.