Through early autumn, the war on the Floor of Congress over the war in Iraq continued. On October 1, 2007 the Senate adopted the National Defense Authorization Act for FY2008 (H.R.1585) by a vote of 92-3. During the two weeks of debate on the bill in September, the Senate rejected three Democratic amendments that would have required various plans requiring drawdowns of U.S. forces in Iraq. The only significant amendment which was adopted was a non-binding Sense of the Senate Resolution offered by the Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, Joseph Biden (D-DE) calling for the partition of Iraq into semi-autonomous Kurdish, Sunni and Shiite regions. Despite the success of the White House and its allies in keeping Iraq-related amendments off that Authorization bill, President Bush indicated he may veto it because of an amendment adopted by a vote of 60-39 on September 27 that would expand Federal hate crime laws to include crimes committed against people because of their gender, sexual orientation or disability. The House passed H.R. 1585 on May 17.
Because the Senate used the Defense Authorization bill as the vehicle for Iraq-related amendments, its consideration of the Department of Defense Appropriations Act for FY2008 (H.R.3222) was quickly concluded when the Senate passed the bill by voice vote on October 3. The bill provides $459.6 billion for Defense Department activities but did not contain any funds for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Congressional consideration of the President’s request for a Supplemental Appropriation of $190 billion for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars will be delayed until early next year.
Recently the House adopted two modest measures related to the war. On October 4, the House adopted the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act Expansion and Enforcement Act by a vote of 389-30. The bill will give Federal courts jurisdiction over civilian contractors, such as Blackwater USA, which work for any U.S. government agency wherever U.S. military forces are engaged in combat operations. On October 2, the House passed H.R. 3087 by a vote of 377-46. This bill would require the Administration to report to Congress within 60 days, and subsequently every 90 days, on the status of planning for the redeployment of U.S. armed forces from Iraq. The level of bipartisan support for these two House measures was rare for the First Session of the 110th Congress. Despite repeated attempts, the Democratic Congressional Leadership has not been able to enact any legislation to change the course of the war in Iraq.
Although the new fiscal year began on October 1, 2007, the Congress has not sent the President any of its 12 Appropriations bills for his signature. Accordingly, the Federal government is being funded under a Continuing Resolution (P.L.110-92) signed by the President on September 29, which continues funding at FY 2007 levels through November 16. The House passed all of its Appropriations bills before it left for the August Recess. By mid-October the Senate had passed six Appropriations bills: Defense (H.R.322), Homeland Security (H.R.3638), Military and Veterans Affairs (H.R.2642), State and Foreign Operations (H.R.2764), Transportation and Housing and Urban Development (H.R.3074), as well as Commerce, Judiciary, Science (H.R.3093). It will spend much of the next several weeks in debating and enacting the six remaining appropriations bills and meeting with the House in Conference Committees to reconcile the different versions. While President Bush did not veto any of the bills sent to him by Congress during his first term, the White House has now issued veto threats against 11 of the 12 Appropriations bills currently pending in the Democratically controlled 110th Congress.
One of President Bush’s recent vetoes led to a major effort by the Democratic Congressional Leadership to override that veto. On October 3, the President vetoed H.R.976, the Children’s Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act. This measure would expand the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) by $35 billion over the next five years to $60 billion. It passed the Senate by a veto-proof margin of 67-39. However, the vote in the House was 265-159, short of the 2/3 majority “present and voting” needed for a veto override. Since early October, House Democratic Leaders engaged in a major effort to secure enough votes to override the President’s veto. However, when the override vote was taken on October 18, only 273 Members voted to override, 13 votes less than the number necessary to override the President’s veto.
As the First Session of the 110th Congress moves toward adjournment, a review of its record demonstrates how crowded the legislative agenda has been. While many Republicans have been critical of what they regard as a lack of significant legislative achievements, the pace of activity has been noteworthy. As it left for its Columbus Day Recess period on October 4, the Senate held its 363rd roll call vote. In the last week of September the House cast its 942nd roll call vote, setting the record for the most Floor votes in a single Session. In the coming weeks, the Congress hopes to complete the Appropriations process, resolve negotiations between the House and Senate on an energy bill, reauthorize the No Child Left Behind education bill, and make adjustments to the Alternative Minimum Tax. While the House and Senate have set November 16 as a target date for adjournment for the First Session, it is likely that the Congress will remain in session well into December.