Democrats Comply With Bush Limits in Spending Package
Congressional Democrats on Sunday completed work on a $516 billion omnibus budget package that would include the fiscal year 2008 Labor-HHS-Education appropriations bill and the 10 other unapproved FY 2008 appropriations bills, the New York Times reports.
According to Democrats, the package -- which "funnels more money" into their priorities, such as medical research and rural health care -- "fell short of what they would prefer to invest" in an effort to "meet President Bush's overall spending target" and avoid opposition from Republicans, the Times reports (Hulse, New York Times, 12/17). The package would provide $4 billion for labor, health and education programs (Rogers, Wall Street Journal, 12/17).
The package includes:
- Increased funds for the Women, Infants and Children federal nutrition program and help for emergency workers who have developed health problems related to the collapse of the World Trade Center;
- $760 million less for NIH than the amount previously approved by Congress but vetoed by Bush;
- $240 million less for CDC than the amount previously approved by Congress but vetoed by Bush;
- $1 billion more than Bush requested for community health centers and other programs that help uninsured and underinsured residents;
- $147 million for rural health care;
- $3.7 billion for health care and other programs for veterans, although Bush would decide whether to dispense the funds (Weisman, Washington Post, 12/17); and
- Increased funds for the Consumer Product Safety Commission and FDA (Taylor, AP/Hartford Courant, 12/17).
In the event that the package fails, Congress would have to pass a long-term continuing resolution that would fund most Cabinet departments and federal agencies at FY 2007 levels, "requiring some agencies to cope with rising workloads with no increase in resources," according to the Times. Some Republicans would prefer to pass a CR because "it would freeze spending and allow them to criticize Democrats for not finishing the spending bills," the Times reports (New York Times, 12/17).
However, "such a scenario seems unlikely" because earmarks included in the package "likely will bestow gifts on the districts of hundreds of lawmakers in both parties," CQ Today reports (Higa/Ota, CQ Today, 12/14).
In related news, Bush on Friday signed a third CR that will fund most Cabinet departments and federal agencies at FY 2007 levels until Dec. 21. The previous CR expired on Friday.
Bush said that lawmakers have made "important progress" toward the passage of the FY 2008 budget, adding that they should pass a "clean" omnibus package "without gimmicks, without policy riders that could not be enacted in the ordinary legislative process" (CQ Today, 12/14).
In the event that lawmakers fail to pass such a package, they "should not carry the unfinished business of 2007 into the new year" and "should pass a one-year continuing resolution that does not include wasteful spending or higher taxes," Bush said (Koffler/Bourge, CongressDaily, 12/14).
In related news, the Washington Post on Saturday examined how, as Congress "stumbles toward Christmas, ... Bush is scoring victory after victory over his Democratic adversaries," although the "cost of those wins could be high, both for the federal debt and for the president's own priorities" (Weisman, Washington Post, 12/15).
The Senate on Friday passed a $696.4 billion FY 2008 Defense authorization bill that includes provisions to help military personnel injured in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, CQ Today reports (Donnelly/Vadala, CQ Today, 12/14).
The legislation, approved on a 90-3 vote, would extend to five years from two automatic eligibility for Department of Veterans Affairs health care services for military personnel who return from the wars. In addition, the bill would ensure that military personnel who return from the wars within 30 days of a request receive mental health examinations.
The legislation also would block proposed fee increases for TRICARE (AP/Baltimore Sun, 12/15).