Senate budget chief pushes for vote on omnibus spending bill
Senate appropriators are putting the heat on Majority Leader Bill Frist. R-Tenn., to bring senators back for a roll call vote Tuesday on the $820 billion fiscal 2004 omnibus spending measure, although he has thus far shown no inclination to do so. The House will act Monday.
Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, who is currently overseas, "certainly wants us to come back" for a roll call vote on the omnibus, a spokeswoman said.
Appropriations ranking member Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., said Wednesday he would object to a unanimous consent request to pass the bill, arguing it was too important not to debate and vote, and that several objectionable last-minute changes -- including provisions governing agency efforts to put federal jobs up for competition from private firms -- demonstrated "we are being force-fed a bad piece of legislation dictated to the Congress by the Bush administration."
"The administration's policies encourage unfair treatment of dedicated public servants, many of whom are being forced into early retirement or the prospect of reduced benefits and lower pay," Byrd said.
OMB spokesman J.T. Young said concerns over job competitions should not hold up the spending bill. "Competitive sourcing is a policy that is fair to the American taxpayer, service recipients and to the federal worker," he said. "It would be very regrettable if misperceptions about this beneficial policy slowed Congress from finishing its appropriations work."
A Frist spokeswoman said the plan remains to ask for a unanimous consent agreement Tuesday and that senators would not be asked to return for a roll call vote next week, but she noted that could still change. Aides have said Frist is opposed to asking senators to return after a marathon November that stretched into Thanksgiving week.
That means Frist may have to wait until Jan. 20 at the earliest, when the Senate reconvenes, for approval of projects in his home state such as $2.5 million for the Enterprise Center in Chattanooga for the Chattanooga Fuel Cell Demonstration Project, and $500,000 for the Cumberland Medical Center in Crossville, among others. The current continuing resolution funding the government at fiscal 2003 levels expires Jan. 31.
Meanwhile, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities appropriations analyst Richard Kogan said Thursday that with inclusion of the omnibus -- at about $325 billion in discretionary spending after a 0.59 percent across-the-board cut in non-defense programs -- spending in real terms has gone up about 1.1 percent this year over last year. That compares with about 17.2 percent between fiscal 2001 and fiscal 2002 with increased homeland security spending. Kogan also said the $1.8 billion rescission in previously obligated Pentagon funds really amounts to just $90 million because the Pentagon can pick and choose where those cuts are made next September, an assertion disputed by appropriators.
Jason Peckenpaugh contributed to this report.