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Continuing Resolution Passes the House Despite Partisan Clashes Over Procedure

January 31, 2007 - by Donny Shaw

The Continuing Resolution (CR) that will fund much of the government for the remainder of the fiscal year (ending on September 30) passed the House of Representatives today. The vote was a bipartisan 286-140, but it came after a bitter and partisan showdown over the rules governing how the bill would be considered. The rules barred amendments from the bill and allowed only one hour of debate. The vote on these rules was the most partisan of the 110th Congress thus far. The vote was 225 in favor and 191 opposed, with only three Representatives voting against the grain of their party.

David Obey (D-WI), House Appropriations Chairman and one of the bill’s two authors, never wanted the task of writing the bill. The responsibility fell into Obey’s hands because the previous Republican-led Congress was unable to fulfill their responsibility of enacting a budget. Clashes between moderates and conservatives of the party caused the bill to stall.

The new CR, or “omnibus spending bill” as some critics are referring to it, is rough. Obey admits to this but is unapologetic. “I don’t expect people to love this proposal, I don’t love this proposal, and we probably have made some wrong choices.” Responding to Republicans complaining about the bill, Obey said, “you forfeited any right to squawk about how we cleaned up your mess.” Working more on the bill would cut into the time that Obey and his committee would have to work on the responsibilities they have been anticipating — the 2008 budget and supplemental funding for the war in Iraq.

Jerry Lewis, the ranking Republican member on the House Appropriations Committee and the CR’s leading critic, described the way it is being handled as “closed-door legislating.” “I regret that for the first time in nearly two decades I must testify in opposition to what the committee has filed for consideration in the House,” Lewis said. “It’s the first omnibus spending bill that I have seen during my time in Congress written and considered without the input of the chairmen or ranking members of any of the Appropriations subcommittees, without the input of any of the Republican or Democratic subcommittee members”

Lewis is also concerned with some specific measures in the bill. Last night, he circulated a letter in opposition to the bill claiming that “changes in housing voucher formula funds would shortchange various states, including Obey’s home state of Wisconsin.” This morning, he spoke at a Republican Conference meeting to urge its members to vote against the bill. Moderate Republicans were persuaded as a whole to vote against the adoption of the rules, but were ultimately not convinced to vote against the CR. Fifty-seven voted in favor, citing the bill’s inclusion of funding increases for education and health care for which they had been hoping. These moderate Republicans and their funding concerns caused the budget bills to stall last year, leading to Democrats having to work on them now.

Conservative Republicans took up issue with the bill for other reasons. Paul Ryan (R-WI) has titled the bill “The Omnibus in CR’s Clothing.” An omnibus bill is often thousands of pages long and typically packages together many divergent measures into one bill. Omnibus bills include a little something for everyone so that the bill gets the overall support needed to pass measures that might otherwise be too controversial. Omnibus bills have become increasingly unpopular as issues of government transparency are more and more in the limelight. Others are upset about a measure included in the CR that would cut funding to military bases and cause some closure and realignment. The White House issued a statement today that said that these cuts would “delay or postpone scheduled redeployments of military personnel and their families from overseas stations to the United States, and negatively impact many communities throughout the country.” Money earned from the $3 billion base cut is being used to fund education and health care programs in the bill.

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