Omnibus spending measure headed to White House

On a 65-28 vote, the Senate on Thursday gave its final approval to a $328 billion fiscal 2004 omnibus appropriations bill incorporating seven spending measures Congress could not pass on time last year.

The measure now goes to President Bush for his signature -- putting to rest the protracted fiscal 2004 budget process in time for the administration's forthcoming fiscal 2005 budget release Feb. 2. Upon enactment, the omnibus will replace the current continuing resolution, which expires Jan. 31. The CR has been funding many major departments at fiscal 2003 levels.

Final passage was all but assured after Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., mustered a 61-32 majority on a second try to invoke cloture, one more than the 60 votes needed.

Twenty-one Democrats, including Minority Whip Harry Reid, D-Nev., voted for the omnibus on the final vote. Four Republicans -- Sens. Wayne Allard, R-Colo., Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, John Ensign, R-Nev., and John McCain, R-Ariz. -- joined 24 Democrats in opposing the measure. Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., voted against it, as did Senate Appropriations ranking member Robert Byrd, D-W.Va.

Many Democrats opposed provisions put into the bill or left out at the behest of the Republican majority, such as the inclusion of a two-year delay for country-of-origin food labeling and omission of language blocking Labor Department changes to overtime compensation rules. "These issues will not go away. This is not the end but the beginning. We will not rest until the job is done," Daschle said on the floor.

Daschle told reporters following the vote it was "very likely" Democrats will use the upcoming class action reform legislation to attach amendments addressing the overtime pay rules. Daschle added that he was looking at "a number of specific alternatives" to address country-of-origin labeling, including offering a Congressional Review Act resolution, which would give the Senate 60 legislative days to review or reject the provisions approved in the omnibus. Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, has offered to address the labeling issue on the first fiscal 2005 spending bill, although that could run into opposition from House Republicans.

Now that the fiscal 2004 budget is out of the way, lawmakers will turn to the president's fiscal 2005 budget proposal as the Congressional Budget Office prepares its latest 10-year deficit figures for release Monday.

The White House is releasing its fiscal 2005 homeland security budget proposal Thursday, in advance of formal submission Feb. 2 of its fiscal 2005 budget blueprint. Aides in both chambers noted that the Senate is set to begin debate Feb. 2 on a new six-year surface transportation bill, which could alter the outcome of the budget resolution depending on lawmakers' appetites for more highway spending.

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