House Passes $463 Billion Spending Bill After Deleting Earmarks

By Paul Kane Staff Writer
Thursday, February 1, 2007; Page A04

The House passed a $463 billion spending measure yesterday that would keep the government operating for the remainder of the fiscal year, an austere plan stripped of billions of dollars worth of special-interest provisions.

The bill, approved 286 to 140, maintains funding for most federal agencies at 2006 levels, but it adds about $16 billion for Democratic priorities, including veterans' health care and Pell grants for higher education. The Senate must pass the continuing resolution by Feb. 15 to avert a partial government shutdown. The White House has indicated that President Bush will sign the measure.

Republicans protested that the bill was not entirely stripped of special-interest funding, or earmarks, as the Democratic leaders asserted, and that they were denied the opportunity to offer amendments.

Rep. Dave Weldon (R-Fla.) complained that funding for NASA would be significantly below the levels requested by Bush and initially approved by the House last year. Under the resolution approved yesterday, the 2007 NASA budget would be $16.2 billion -- about the same as its 2006 budget.

Weldon said that funding for the manned-exploration budget, in particular, would be less than what was expected and that the program to launch a new manned spaceship by 2014 would be delayed as a result.

But more than a quarter of GOP House members supported the resolution, which contains spending provisions for politically popular items, including an additional $1.3 billion for the fight against HIV/AIDS and other diseases. Moreover, half of the House GOP's leadership team in the past two Congresses sided with the Democrats, including Reps. Deborah Pryce (R-Ohio), John T. Doolittle (R-Calif.) and Thomas M. Reynolds (R-N.Y.).

The Senate is expected to take up the measure after it debates and votes on a resolution of disapproval over Bush's decision to send 21,500 more troops to the war in Iraq.

The measure had to be cobbled together because Congress did not finish its work last year and failed to pass nine of 11 spending bills. "Four months into fiscal 2007, we are cleaning up the Republican Party's budget mess," House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) said during the floor debate.

For students, the extra funds for Pell grants would mean an increase of $260 per year, up to $4,310, according to congressional estimates. The National Institutes of Health would have an additional 500 research grants to administer because of almost $620 million in additional funding for the remainder of fiscal 2007, which will end on Sept. 30.

The chairmen of the House and Senate Appropriations committees, Rep. David R. Obey (D-Wis.) and Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W. Va.), respectively, announced in early December that they would push to combine and approve all the remaining spending bills but would strip out thousands of earmarks. That decision came after the recent corruption scandals in Congress, which almost all involved earmarks tucked into spending bills, usually with no legislative oversight.

In removing all the earmarks, however, Democrats gave up their ability to direct how government agencies spend billions of dollars.

House Republicans contended that the bill contains nearly $500 million in what amount to earmarks, but Democrats argued that those spending provisions -- including almost $50 million for rain forests in Iowa -- were supported by Republicans or are continuations of projects that had already been allotted millions of dollars in federal funds.

The spending bill does not include the standard cost-of-living adjustment in congressional pay, leaving a rank-and-file member's salary at $165,800.

Unlike in past years, when both parties adhered to a cease-fire in the use of pay increases as a political issue, many Democratic challengers in last year's election campaign pointed to the many salary boosts incumbents received under GOP rule over the past decade while the minimum wage stayed at $5.15 per hour.

Staff writer Marc Kaufman contributed to this report.

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