Stopgap Spending Bill Wins Approval in U.S. Senate
The Senate on Thursday voted 94-1 to pass a stopgap spending bill (HJ Res 52) that would fund at current levels the budgets of Cabinet departments and government agencies until Nov. 16, the AP/Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports.
The continuing resolution now will be sent to President Bush, who must sign the bill before Oct. 1, the beginning of the new fiscal year (Taylor, AP/Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 9/27).
Stopgap legislation was required because none of the 12 annual appropriations bills has been signed into law. The House has passed all 12 spending bills, while the Senate has approved four. There have been no conference committees.
The CR also temporarily extends SCHIP as Congress and Bush continue to debate reauthorization and expansion of the program and others set to expire on Sept. 30 (California Healthline, 9/27).
Both the House and Senate have approved SCHIP compromise legislation, but Bush has vowed to veto the measure, along with seven of the 12 appropriations bills that call for $23 billion more in funding for domestic programs than his $933 billion requested budget (Clarke, CQ Today, 9/27).
Although stopgap bills have been needed every year since 1994, this is the first time in five years that none of the appropriations bills has become law by the Oct. 1 deadline. The single vote against the stopgap measure came from Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.), who said the bill gave Bush a "blank check" to continue war spending, the AP/Journal-Constitution reports.
Instead of sending spending bills to Bush in a single omnibus bill and risking the president criticizing Democrats' spending and earmarks, Democrats are planning to send bills independently to "make the fight about individual programs and priorities," CongressDaily reports (Cohn, CongressDaily, 9/28).
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) did not specify which bills the leadership is prioritizing but said Democrats hope to send Bush three appropriations bills within weeks to "see what he does with them."
Reid said the Senate will begin to consider the Commerce-Justice Science bill starting Friday or Oct. 1, followed by the Defense bill and the Labor-HHS-Education spending measure (HR 3043) (CQ Today, 9/27).
House Appropriations Committee Chair David Obey (D-Wis.) said he would not be opposed to sending the bills in "bunches" that would combine several bills with politically popular spending measures, such as funding for the Department of Defense or veterans' hospitals, to discourage a presidential veto (Faler, Bloomberg News, 9/27).
Democrats have contrasted their proposed $23 billion increase for domestic programs with Bush's $193 billion-plus war spending request, which Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) said is "less than 1% of [the] entire budget and about what [the U.S. spends] in just two months' time fighting an unpopular war in Iraq."
He added, "These bills help to educate our children, secure our homeland, support rural America and promote a competitive economy. These domestic spending bills provide the essential building blocks for the foundations of our great country" (CongressDaily, 9/28).
Senate Minority Whip Trent Lott (R-Miss.) criticized Democrats' efforts, saying, "This is really all about a game of chicken now. We should control our insatiable appetite for spending" (Bloomberg News, 9/27).
Although Bush did not run for office on a "promise to render government dysfunctional, ... it is how he has governed and how he seems to see his role -- now more than ever," syndicated columnist Marie Cocco writes in a Washington Post opinion piece.
She calls the problem of "how to finance the most basic operations of the federal government" a "manufactured impasse, since Congress has actually made quicker progress in approving routine spending bills this year than in most."
Cocco writes that Bush's "picayune" fight is meant to "fake out the public so it believes Democrats can't perform basic governmental tasks; energize the Republican conservative base before next year's elections"; and turn off independent voters, who typically object to "budget showdowns."
She concludes, "The [spending] numbers will not matter because the point is to show Democrats cannot win for having won. This may be the only strategy Bush sees. But it's no way to run a sewer commission" (Cocco, Washington Post, 9/27).