House passes omnibus spending measure

House passes omnibus spending measure

The House this evening voted 333-95 to approve a $520 billion omnibus spending bill funding about a third of the federal government, enabling legislators to head home and begin campaigning in earnest.

The two-foot-high, 3,800-page, 40-pound bill is the last train leaving the station this year on Capitol Hill, and it carries a great deal of extra baggage in the caboose. The bill names a variety of post offices, allows the Student Loan Marketing Association to purchase a bank and permanently repeals the tax-exempt status of the National Education Association-a longtime nemesis of congressional Republican leaders.

While few people have read the entire bill itself, which was transported around the Hill on a large cart, summaries of the bill make it clear that a variety of extraneous matters have been added. In the District of Columbia section, the bill not only permanently repeals the NEA's tax-exempt status-a move that had been discussed for many years; it also includes a variety of prohibitions, including one banning the use of federal funds to sue Congress for District voting representation.

In recent years, the NEA has abandoned its opposition to Congress repealing its federal charter, and Congress did just that for one year in the fiscal 1998 District of Columbia spending bill, a move that resulted in the organization paying $1.1 million in property taxes.

The omnibus bill also specifically allows Sallie Mae's holding company to purchase a bank as long as the Treasury Department determines certain conditions are met. As a government-sponsored enterprise, Sallie Mae is prohibited from purchasing or affiliating with a bank. However, Congress has repealed the association's status as a government-sponsored enterprise.

The bill's general provisions also provide some $260 million for transportation projects, including ones in West Virginia, the home state of Senate Appropriations ranking member Robert Byrd, and Alaska, the home state of Senate Appropriations Chairman Stevens.

The bill also names 12 post offices for a variety of people, including four former members of Congress. Finally, the bill authorizes the president to award congressional gold medals to the "Little Rock Nine," the African-Americans who integrated Little Rock's Central High School in Clinton's home state.

The Senate is expected to vote on the bill Wednesday.

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