House Approves $410B Omnibus Package, Sends To Senate

The House Wednesday approved a $410 billion omnibus spending package that would wrap up appropriations for FY09, which began Oct. 1.

The bill passed 245-178, with 16 Republicans voting in favor and 20 Democrats voting against the omnibus, which consists of nine of the FY09 appropriations bills that Congress has not approved. Three of the annual spending bills -- Defense, Military Construction-VA and Homeland Security -- were cleared in late September with the continuing resolution that is funding federal programs. The CR expires March 6.

Republicans who voted for the bill included Rep. Charles Dent, R-Pa., who on Tuesday sought to offer an amendment that would have limited the funding increase in the package to 3.8 percent, the percentage the Consumer Price Index increased in 2008. The House Rules Committee rejected the amendment Tuesday. As written, the bill would increase funding by about 8 percent over FY08.

Among the Democrats opposing the package were Reps. Dennis Cardoza of California and Jim Cooper of Tennessee, both members of the Blue Dog Coalition. Earlier in the day, Cardoza and other Blue Dogs huddled with Majority Leader Hoyer on the floor for a lengthy discussion. Rep. Allen Boyd, D-Fla., a Blue Dog who voted for final passage, told CongressDaily they were discussing the need for regular order, given the changes that were made to the bill.

The bill now goes to the Senate, where Senate Majority Leader Reid has said he intends to finish work on the bill by March 6.

When the House approved the rule for the bill, 398-25, they voted for a provision canceling an automatic cost of living increase scheduled in FY10 for members of Congress.

During debate, Appropriations Chairman David Obey warned that failure to pass the bill would punish the economy because the funding is needed to ensure federal agencies have the resources to carry out the provisions of the $787 billion economic stimulus bill.

"The [omnibus] also funds numerous critical programs not funded in the recovery act. We only touched about 25 percent of government accounts in the recovery act," Obey said.

Obey blamed former President George W. Bush for the late consideration of FY09 appropriations. Early last year Bush said he would veto any appropriations bills that spend more than he recommended in his FY08 budget.

"We simply had a stark disagreement with the White House," Obey said. "The president said he would not sign these domestic bills unless we accepted his level of cuts. We [decided to pass a CR and] take our chances on the election and hope we could elect somebody to the White House that can sit down and negotiate like an adult. And now that is what has happened."

Republicans questioned the need for the package since Congress last week passed the economic stimulus. The omnibus represents an 8 percent increase over FY08 spending.

"At the very time when our economy is forcing families to make do with less, Congress has embarked on the largest spending spree in our country's history," House Appropriations ranking member Jerry Lewis said, adding that "the premise of pay/go has been replaced with the promise of go/spend under this majority."

Pay/go is a parliamentary budget rule that requires that new spending be offset.

House Republican leaders have called on Democrats to extend the CR, which would
essentially freeze federal spending for programs covered in the nine bills at FY08 levels.

Senate Budget ranking member Judd Gregg said he agreed with House Republicans.

"I think we should freeze spending," Gregg said. "Last week, we bought the candy store by passing the stimulus and now they want to buy a few extra boxes of candy."

Republicans criticized the bill because it would prohibit the use of omnibus funds for the District of Columbia's school voucher program before it is reauthorized, which Republicans claim would kill the program.

"To suggest that we ought to eliminate this program is an abomination," House Minority Leader Boehner said.

The House also rejected a point of order, 234-177, raised against the rule by Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., who argued that the House should not take up the package because it likely contains unfunded mandates in violation of House rules.