House passes spending bill with 4.1 percent civil service pay raise

The House on Monday approved an $820 billion fiscal 2004 omnibus spending bill, wrapping together the remaining seven appropriations measures, over the objections of many Democrats and some Republicans angered by what they regard as excessive "earmarking" of federal funds for unrequested home state projects. The final vote on the legislation was 242-176.

The fiscal 2004 Transportation-Treasury appropriations bill, which contains language granting white-collar federal employees a 4.1 percent average pay raise in 2004, was folded into the legislation.

"Though I voted against this bill for unrelated provisions, I believe that it was imperative that we provide federal employees, including those at the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security, a fair pay raise to reward them for their dedication to serving and protecting our country," said Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md. "This pay raise respects the principle of pay parity, which ensures that both civilian federal employees and military employees receive fair pay adjustments for their service."

But the timing of a final Senate vote remains unclear. A spokeswoman for Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., said he had not yet decided whether to bring senators back for a roll call vote, but added that he was leaning against it. However, if enough GOP senators concur with Senate Appropriations Chairman Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, and President Bush that final passage is necessary this month, Frist could file cloture when the Senate reconvenes Tuesday which could ripen for a vote as early as Thursday.

Stevens and House Appropriations Chairman C.W. Bill Young, R-Fla., want to enact the massive spending bill this month to avoid funding shortages for veterans' health care, FBI counterterrorism activities and the National Institutes of Health, among other priorities, and Bush has weighed in on global AIDS funding.

"People are dying every day waiting for the funding to come online," said a spokesman for Debt, AIDS, and Trade in Africa -- a group spearheaded by U2 lead singer Bono, who has worked closely on the issue with the White House and Frist, among others others.

The spokesman said several GOP senators have approached the advocacy group arguing for a roll call vote this month on the omnibus, although they stopped short of calling for breaking out the fiscal 2004 Foreign Operations appropriations bill -- which contains most of the $2.4 billion to combat AIDS -- as Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., has suggested.

Meanwhile, Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., called it "shameful the way we as Republicans have exploded the earmarking." Flake voted against the omnibus bill. He and other GOP conservatives such as Rep. Marilyn Musgrave, R-Colo., are urging Bush to veto the bill, citing earmarks such as $360,000 for Citrus Waste Utilization in Winter Haven, Fla. But Musgrave has sought earmarks for her state, such as $318,000 to study genetic enhancement of wheat at Colorado State University, which was eventually dropped from the final version.

Young said the omnibus, when combined with the six already enacted spending bills, stays within the president's budget of $785.6 billion in discretionary spending for fiscal 2004. The omnibus contains $328 billion in discretionary spending, including about $50 billion for earmarks, he said.

"Had it not been for Appropriations Committee discipline, [earmarking] would have been $50 billion more," Young added. Flake also decried the rule for floor debate since it did not allow points of order removing provisions not voted upon by the House and Senate.

Another conservative, Rep. C.L. (Butch) Otter, R-Idaho, circulated a "Dear Colleague" urging lawmakers to vote against the measure because appropriators removed his amendment to block Justice Department "sneak and peek" procedures.

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