Amendment process for DHS spending bills attracts attention

The fiscal 2010 Homeland Security appropriations bill is on deck this week in the House and Senate as congressional Democratic leaders try to keep to their goal of finishing all 12 annual spending bills before of the end of the fiscal year, Sept. 30.

Focus on the fiscal 2010 appropriations bills comes after Congress finished work last week on a $106 billion war supplemental spending bill.

In the House, the Rules Committee announced that it will meet this evening to craft a rule for the $42.6 billion fiscal 2010 Homeland Security bill, where Democratic leaders are expected to clamp down on the number of amendments that can be offered. House floor consideration of the bill could begin as early as Wednesday.

House Democrats have said the amendment limit is needed to help meet their self-imposed deadline of finishing work on all 12 bills by the August recess. The amendment limitation is needed because a bipartisan agreement on how much time to devote to debate of any of the appropriations bills has eluded House leaders.

Republicans have said that in previous years the majority party has typically not limited amendments to the spending bills and that the restriction squelches minority rights.

Republicans might seek to protest the amendment limitation through procedural delay on the House floor.

"All options are on the table," said a spokesman for House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio. "Stay tuned."

On Thursday, the House took a record 53 roll-call votes after Democrats and Republicans clashed over how many amendments to allow to the $64.4 billion fiscal 2010 Commerce-Justice-Science appropriations bill -- the first fiscal 2010 spending measure to reach the floor this year. The House ultimately passed the measure Thursday, 259-197, but the daylong voting session forced the delay and cancellation of much House business, including committee hearings and markups.

The Homeland Security bill is about $2.6 billion above last year's level and about $200 million below President Obama's request. The measure includes about $10 billion for U.S. Customs and Border Protection; $10 billion for the Coast Guard; $7.7 billion for the Transportation Security Administration; $3.55 billion in first responder grants, and $5.4 billion for Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Later in the week, the House is expected to take up the $32.3 billion Interior-Environment spending bill. The Interior-Environment measure, funded at the same amount requested by Obama and $4.7 billion above the fiscal 2009 level, includes $10.4 billion for the EPA; $6.8 billion to improve American Indian health care, tribal law enforcement and education; $3.66 billion for wildfire prevention, and $2.7 billion for national parks.

Action on the two spending bills would come after the House on Friday approved the $3.7 billion fiscal 2010 Legislative Branch appropriations bill.

Meanwhile, the Senate will look this week to take up its $3.1 billion Legislative Branch appropriations measure or its $42.9 billion fiscal 2010 Homeland Security appropriations bill, according to the office of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.

A Reid spokeswoman said on Monday evening that the Senate will likely move to the Legislative Branch bill before the Homeland Security bill.

Senate Transportation-HUD Appropriations Subcommittee Chairwoman Patty Murray, D-Wash., will manage debate on the Homeland Security measure when it reaches the Senate floor, according to the office of Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., the Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee chairman. Byrd is expected to remain in the hospital this week undergoing physical therapy and treatment for a staph infection, his office said in a statement on Monday. Byrd, 91, has been hospitalized since May 15, but he "continues to improve," the statement said. "He is not expected to be in the office this week."

Differences among the Senate and House Homeland Security bills include funding for E-Verify, a program that enables employers to verify the Social Security number and legal status of a worker online.

The Senate bill would provide E-Verify the three-year extension sought by Obama, and $118.5 million, $6.5 million more than Obama requested. The House bill would extend the program by two years and provide the $112 million requested by Obama.

Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., said last week he intends to offer an amendment to the bill to require all government contractors to immediately begin using E-Verify to check the legality of hires. Other immigration-related amendments will likely be offered when the Senate considers the legislation.

Last week, House Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman David Price, D-N.C., said the two-year extension was meant to dovetail with the "likely timing" for Congress to take up comprehensive legislation overhauling the nation's immigration laws.

Also this week, the Senate Appropriations Committee is scheduled to consider the fiscal 2010 Commerce-Justice-Science appropriations bill and the fiscal 2010 Interior-Environment spending measure. The full committee markup is scheduled for Thursday afternoon, while the subcommittee markups are set for Tuesday for C-J-S and Wednesday for Interior.

Chris Strohm contributed to this report.

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