WASHINGTON (AP) — Despite coming under daily assault from Republicans over spending, the Obama administration is pushing a $20 billion-plus pre-election shopping list on its Democratic allies in Congress as they prepare must-pass legislation to prevent a government shutdown next month.
Republicans are protesting the spending requests, which include $1.9 billion for grants to better-performing schools, financial help for the Postal Service and more than $4 billion requested by the administration to finance settlements of long-standing lawsuits against the government.
A tally by Republicans puts the price tag of the Obama requests at more than $20 billion, including $5.7 billion to prevent shortfalls in the popular Pell Grant program next year and permit the cash-strapped Postal Service to delay a scheduled $5.5 billion payment into a health care fund for retirees and use the money to stay afloat.
The wish list appears to be an overreach given political anxiety among Democrats over spending with midterm elections to determine whether they maintain control of Congress just seven weeks away. Rep. Tom Latham, R-Iowa, predicted that the White House would get relatively little of what it’s seeking.
The White House is targeting a bill to continue funding the government past the Sept. 30 end of the 2010 fiscal year to carry its spending requests. The measure is needed because Congress is failing to pass the annual spending bills that pay for the day-to-day operations of the government.
Such stopgap funding bills typically don’t carry controversial legislation or large spending initiatives. But the measure is the last bill that Congress absolutely has to pass before the Nov. 2 elections, and so it is a tempting target on which to add unfinished business.
“The Obama administration, Speaker Pelosi and Democrat leaders are going to try and use this (stopgap bill) as a ‘Hail Mary’ pass for more government spending and policy items in a frantic last dash before the election,” said Rep. Jerry Lewis, R-Calif.
The White House quietly sent the unofficial request to lawmakers earlier this week and it’s not clear how seriously it is pushing some of the items. They are sure to meet resistance from politically endangered Democrats uneasy about their party’s record on spending.
“The committee routinely hears from the administration about ongoing appropriations needs. We are currently reviewing those needs to determine what is necessary,” said Ellis Brachman, spokesman for House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey, D-Wis. Obey himself waved off interview requests as he raced to the House floor for a vote.
The White House budget office had no immediate comment.