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Huge Domestic Spending Bill Set to Pass in the House

July 19, 2007 - by Donny Shaw

All eyes have been on the Senate recently as they have taken up debate on a couple of the nation’s biggest issues: like immigration reform and the Iraq war. But in the background this whole time, the House of Representatives has been steadily churning out appropriations bills to fund government agencies for fiscal year 2008. They have already completed work on seven (of eleven) of these bills and they are getting ready to put their seal of approval on the eighth later today.

The Labor-HHS-Education bill they will vote on today is the biggest and most politically-sensitive of them all. It totals $154 billion and funds the Health and Human Services Department, which is charged with the task of “protecting the health of all Americans and providing essential human services, especially for those who are least able to help themselves.” Speaking on the House floor, Representative Steven LaTourette (R-OH) put it more simply. “It’s the bill that takes care of America,” he said. It also provides funds for the Department of Labor and the Department of Education.

But the bill’s discretionary spending is $10.6 above what President Bush had requested and he has threatened to veto it for containing “irresponsible and excessive level of spending.” Here’s the White House’s statement explaining the veto:

>H.R. 3043 exceeds the President’s request for programs funded in this bill by nearly $11 billion, part of the $22 billion increase above the President’s request for FY 2008 appropriations. The President’s request for programs in this bill sets forth a fiscally responsible path that provides increases for the nation’s highest priorities while reducing funds for low priority or nonperforming programs. The President’s Budget proposed gross savings of $3.1 billion for the Department of Education, $1.2 billion for the Department of Labor, and $2.3 billion for the Department of Health and Human Services, so that resources could be redirected to more important needs. The Administration has asked that Congress demonstrate a path to live within the President’s topline and cover the excess spending in this bill through reductions elsewhere, while ensuring the Department of Defense has the resources necessary to accomplish its mission. Because Congress has failed to demonstrate such a path, if H.R. 3043 were presented to the President, he would veto the bill.

But, the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities has done some math and learned that, “after adjusting for inflation and population growth, the appropriations bills the President is likely to veto — including the Labor-HHS-Education bill — would cost less in 2008 than the corresponding bills cost, on average, during 2002-2006.” They calculated that the average cost of the Labor-HHS-Education bills between 2002 and 2006 is $158 billion. Bush had requested that this bill provide $141 billion, while Congress decided on something in the middle: $154 billion.

Further, Congress has already agreed on a broad outline of their budget for the year and the spending in this bill upholds the priorities they set out. Appropriations Chairman David Obey (D-WI) made a particular effort with this politically charged bill to work closely with Republican James Walsh (NY), the Labor-HHS Appropriations Subcommittee ranking member. It is expected to pass with broad bipartisan support, but less than a veto-proof majority.

The fiscal year begins on October 1, 2007. If Congress doesn’t complete work on the bill, or if it is vetoed by the President, all the programs it funds would be funded at their current levels under a last-minute continuing resolution.

OMBWatch, a government watchdog group that keeps a close eye on the budgeting process, has put together this chart give a quick view of where the appropriations process stands:

UPDATE: And here are the roll call details for the vote on the Labor-HHS-Education bill. The bill passed only 14 votes shy of a veto-proof majority.

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