The House approved a 3.1 percent pay raise for about 1.8 million federal civilian employees yesterday as part of a fiscal 2006 spending bill covering transportation, housing, the Treasury and the District of Columbia.
The raise exceeds President Bush's proposed increase of 2.3 percent for federal civilian employees and 3.1 percent for the military. The Senate has not yet taken up the pay raise in its version of the bill, but the House's decision sends a strong signal that federal employees can expect to receive the 3.1 percent raise next year.
By wrapping up work on the measure, the House will depart for the July 4 recess having completed work on the last of nearly a dozen annual appropriations bills a month ahead of schedule. House members set aside several major spending controversies for final negotiations with the Senate this fall.
The spending legislation, which passed 405 to 18, includes about $67 billion in spending directly controlled by lawmakers, up slightly from the $63.1 billion in this year's budget. Amtrak would receive nearly $1.2 billion, roughly what it is getting this year and more than double the $550 million that the House Appropriations Committee recommended.
The District of Columbia would receive funding increases for the out-of-state tuition assistance program, the Anacostia Waterfront development initiative and improvements to public schools.
The House passed this and other spending bills with strong bipartisan support and few big fights, reflecting congressional leaders' across-the-board approach to belt-tightening, with few high-profile programs singled out for major reductions. Earlier this week, the House passed a $20 billion foreign aid spending bill that includes $2.7 billion to fight HIV, malaria and tuberculosis, and $240 million in economic assistance to Israel.
In the State Department spending bill, lawmakers cut $1.25 billion from Bush's $3 billion request to fund the Millennium Challenge Account, which rewards companies for pursuing democratic reforms overseas. A Senate Appropriations subcommittee approved $1.2 billion less than Bush had sought for the account when it passed its foreign aid bill this week.
Passage of the spending bills represented a major achievement for new Appropriations Chairman Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.) and House GOP leaders, who have sought to restore order to a spending process that had become chaotic in recent years. Given the tight budget that Congress passed this spring, all 11 House appropriation bills were exercises in fiscal discipline that involved difficult choices. The budget ax touched favorite causes of Republicans and Democrats alike.
By restoring funding for Amtrak, House lawmakers diverted funds from other accounts, including $435 million slotted for repairs to government buildings. That was a down payment on the estimated $6.2 billion in improvements that federal properties need nationwide.
Major D.C. construction projects could be affected, including the new Transportation Department headquarters and security improvements to the Eisenhower Executive Office Building next to the White House.
If the cuts stand, "we may not be able to pay for utilities, for maintenance or cleaning" at federal sites, said Rep. Joe Knollenberg (R-Mich), chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee that wrote the transportation bill.
The House gave short shrift to other programs when it increased funding for public broadcasting by an additional $100 million last week as part of a $142.7 billion labor-health-education bill. The increase for the broadcasters was offset by cuts in Labor Department employment and training administrative services, to the tune of $58 million, and $27 million in cuts to Education Department higher-education programs. Lawmakers may face pressure to restore those cuts during negotiations with the Senate this fall.
The House amended the transportation spending bill with a provision that tightens rules on government public relations efforts, after revelations that the current administration had paid media commentators, such as Armstrong Williams.
But it narrowly resisted a bid to relax rules that determine how frequently Cuban Americans may return to Cuba to visit their families. The amendment was designed to help a Cuban American Iraq war veteran who wants to visit an ill son, and it failed 211 to 208.
Staff writer Christopher Lee contributed to this report.