House, Senate pass measures keeping government open

Despite complaints from House Democrats that they were being shut out of the budget process, Wednesday night the House passed two continuing resolutions-one to keep the government operating through Jan. 31, the other to serve as a vehicle for the fiscal 2003 omnibus appropriations package.

The Senate Thursday, by voice vote, joined the House in approving the CR keeping agencies open through the end of the month. The other CR will be taken up next week, when Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, is expected to amend it with the contents of the 11 remaining 2003 spending bills.

Stevens has tentatively scheduled a markup for Friday on the new bills, but if the Senate fails to organize by then, the markup will be delayed until next week.

Before the House's action, Democrats had threatened there would be "hell raised on the floor" because of a decision by the Rules Committee that they said prevented them from offering substantive alternatives to the CRs and likely the omnibus package once it is completed.

House Appropriations ranking member David Obey, D-Wis., said Democrats were hoping to offer an amendment that would provide $2.5 billion in homeland security funds and other elements of a contingency package included in last summer's fiscal 2002 supplemental but not signed into law by President Bush.

"We don't expect to win, but we do expect to be afforded the opportunity" to offer alternatives, Obey said Wednesday. Characterizing the rules process as similar to those employed by a "Soviet-style Congress," Obey said GOP leaders are "rigging the process" so there is only one possible outcome and vowed to protest using various parliamentary delaying tactics. Obey also complained that the strategy to complete 2003 appropriations prevents the House from taking an up-or-down vote on domestic appropriations issues.