Senate Belatedly Passes Spending Bill for 2007

By Paul Kane Staff Writer
Thursday, February 15, 2007

Four and a half months after the legal deadline, the Senate gave final approval to a 2007 spending plan that funds almost half the federal government and averts any chance of a government shutdown.

By an 81 to 15 vote, the Senate approved a $463.5 billion measure that Republicans had threatened to block out of pique for being denied a chance to offer amendments. In the end, Republicans gave in and overwhelmingly supported the spending bill, which funds a litany of popular domestic programs through Sept. 30.

Before the vote, Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) said that his fellow Republicans were not willing to risk a partial government shutdown over complaints about how Democrats were running the chamber.

"This is funding for about half the government," he said. "We've got to get it done and move on."

That acquiescence by Republicans puts off until next month the first big showdown between the White House and Democrats on spending, which will come as part of deliberations over President Bush's anticipated request for additional funds for the war in Iraq.

Congressional Democrats blame Republicans for leaving them a fiscal mess from last year, when Congress approved just two of the 11 appropriations bills and forced them to craft an omnibus bill that would fund a large chunk of the government for the remainder of fiscal 2007.

"Today's action is another step towards cleaning up the fiscal mess left by the 109th Congress," said Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.).

The fiscal year began on Oct. 1, a deadline that Congress almost always misses, but both Democrats and Republicans acknowledge that mid-February is a particularly late time to pass the remaining spending bills. Bush is expected to sign the measure by Friday, when a temporary spending bill expires.

Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) and Rep. David R. Obey (D-Wis.), chairmen of the Senate and House Appropriations committees, reached agreement on the $463.5 billion bill that would eliminate billions of dollars worth of earmarks, the special-interest provisions inserted into appropriations bills usually with no oversight.

The spending plan would maintain funding for most federal agencies at their 2006 level, but it would add billions of dollars in funding for Democratic priorities such as veterans' health care and Pell grants for higher education.

The additional funding for Pell grants would mean an increase of $260 per year, up to $4,310, for students, according to congressional estimates. The National Institutes of Health will have an additional 500 research grants to administer because of almost $620 million in increased funding.

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.

When the House recently passed what is called a continuing resolution, the Republican leadership protested vehemently that they were not allowed to offer any amendments to the spending measure.

Senate Republicans made similar protests last week when they took up the bill.

Though they backed down on the spending bill, Lott warned that Reid would face an insurrection if he continued to disallow GOP amendments.

"He's trying to turn the Senate into a mini-House," said Lott, a Republican leader.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company