Senate approves month-long funding measure
The Senate approved a month-long continuing resolution Thursday by voice vote, clearing it for the president's signature after House passage, 407-8, earlier in the day.
But before getting the measure through, Senate leaders huddled late Thursday to resolve concerns voiced by Budget Chairman Don Nickles, R-Okla., over the measure, which would fund government programs past the end of the fiscal year next Tuesday and keep the government running through Oct. 31.
Nickles objected to the CR because complicated budget details would enable slightly higher rates of spending than under the fiscal 2004 budget resolution. In the end, Nickles secured a commitment from Senate Appropriations Chairman Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, that the problem would be fixed in the event of future CRs, aides said. OMB Director Josh Bolten is also drafting a letter to Nickles, making assurances that "one-time" funding will not go forth for the duration of the CR.
The spending rate problem stems from details of the CR, which would continue annualized, discretionary spending at a fiscal 2003 rate of $789 billion. That is just slightly higher than the level approved in the fiscal 2004 budget resolution of $784.7 billion, allowing spending to proceed at a slightly higher rate. The extra money, $400 million in spending, would come from October's slice of $10 billion in fiscal 2003 nondefense supplemental funds, including foreign aid, Iraq reconstruction, airline assistance and disaster relief.
Because the fiscal 2004 Defense conference report cleared Thursday, fiscal 2003 supplemental defense funds would not factor into the CR. Congress passed a $79 billion fiscal 2003 supplemental this spring, the lion's share of which went to defense.
But Nickles argued that the extra $10 billion appropriated in fiscal 2003 amounted to "one-time" spending, and spending at the higher rate should not be continued through October.
The CR will keep the government running in the absence of the regular fiscal 2004 appropriations bills. Congress cleared three fiscal 2004 conference reports this week-Homeland Security, Legislative Branch and Defense-leaving 10 to go.
The House has completed work on all 13 bills; the Senate only six. The Senate is debating the fiscal 2004 District of Columbia bill but is currently tied up in a debate over school vouchers.
The Senate had planned to finish action Thursday on the District of Columbia bill, but leaders announced that no more roll call votes would take place this week. Discussions over the District of Columbia school voucher program continued to bog down, as Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., offered a new version of the program that would increase some school accountability measures. A two-day effort by Sens. Thomas Carper, D-Del., and Mary Landrieu, D-La., to broker a compromise with Republicans on their voucher amendment appeared to falter Thursday, but all sides said they would continue to discuss the issue.
A temporary extension of the highway program-which expires Tuesday-could be passed today by voice vote, Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., said.
In addition, while the CR extends FAA funding to prevent the furlough of federal workers, it does not resolve the larger issue of FAA reauthorization.
House sources said conferees on the aviation reauthorization package are expected to reopen conference talks next week to work through issues that have stalled completion of the four-year, $60 billion bill, including the thorny issue of whether to allow the Bush administration to move ahead with a plan to privatize the air traffic control system.
Appropriations conference agreements are possible next week on the fiscal 2004 Military Construction and Energy and Water measures.
When the Senate reconvenes Oct. 14 after a weeklong recess, remaining fiscal 2004 appropriations bills could be wrapped into a catch-all, omnibus measure, while leaders focus on enactment of the administration's request for an $87 billion Iraq supplemental spending bill.
Senate Appropriations ranking member Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., again raised his objections Thursday night to a tentative deal to mark up the Iraq supplemental Tuesday and bring it to the floor by Wednesday.
"We don't need to rush the bill through," said Byrd on the floor. "This is being ramrodded through the Senate."
But Frist defended the supplemental as an emergency, saying it is imperative to get it done quickly.
"We're at war," he declared.
Discussions on the issue are expected to continue this week.