By Ben Pershing
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 11, 2009
The House voted Thursday to approve half a dozen spending bills contained in one large package, as the chamber races to complete its work before adjourning for the year.
The $447 billion measure, which combines six appropriations bills, passed 221 to 202, with 28 Democrats joining all 174 Republicans present in opposing it. GOP lawmakers said the measure was overinflated and rushed through with little scrutiny, while Democrats said it would fund key priorities.
"By focusing on our economy, workers, small businesses and veterans, this legislation will put Americans back to work and help build long-term and broadly shared prosperity," said Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).
The package includes the measure that provides federal funding for the District. City leaders rejoiced this week after a House-Senate conference committee agreed to remove a handful of controversial, long-standing riders from the D.C. budget, including language that banned needle-exchange programs, medical marijuana use and local government-funded abortion. The bill also would end a ban on using federal money "for domestic partnership registration and benefits."
Passage of the omnibus spending measure leaves only one more appropriations bill for the House to tackle -- the one funding the Pentagon. Leaders have deliberately held back that measure, as they discuss what other legislation can be tacked onto it when the chamber takes up the bill next week. The defense measure will serve as the vehicle for all or part of the job-creation package President Obama has requested, along with an increase in the federal debt limit and a handful of other must-pass legislation.
The Senate's plans for the omnibus bill are uncertain. The measure would take at least a few days to move through that chamber, which is preoccupied by the health-care debate. Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) filed cloture Thursday on the spending bill, a procedural move that would allow a vote to begin debate Saturday and a possible vote on final passage as soon as Sunday.
In addition to the financial services and general government bill, which contains the D.C. money, the omnibus measure includes the Transportation-HUD bill; the Commerce-Justice-State bill; the Labor-HHS-Education bill; the military construction-Veterans Affairs bill; and the State-foreign operations bill.
Each of the half-dozen measures is bigger than the one from the year before, and Republicans complained that Democrats are spending recklessly, given the growing federal budget deficit.
"There is no question that the era of big government has returned to Washington, D.C.," said Rep. Jerry Lewis (Calif.), the top Republican on the Appropriations panel. "I cannot and will not support this package of spending bills, because it simply spends too much money and makes a mockery of our legislative process."