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Editorial Cartoon: Peace in Gaza
Editorial Cartoon: Peace in Gaza
Published April 19, 2024

Senate Approves Plan to Pay Bills

W By Janet Hook

wASHINGTON – The Senate passed a bill Tuesday night that keeps the government’s domestic programs running through mid-January at current spending levels, a stopgap budget that clears the way for the 107th Congress to adjourn.

The spending bill, which was approved 92-2 and has passed the House, postpones major budget decisions until after the new GOP-controlled Congress convenes in early January.

The measure is needed because lawmakers have passed only two of the 13 appropriation bills – for the Pentagon and military construction – needed to finance the government in the budget year that began Oct. 1.

Postponing action on the other spending bills culminates a year of budget meltdown that has been almost without precedent. Not in recent memory has Congress left so much of its basic fiscal work undone for so long.

“That’s almost malpractice by the 107th Congress, to leave town without having completed the basic functions of the Congress,” said Robert Reischauer, a budget expert who heads the Urban Institute, a Washington think tank.

The deadlock had its roots not only in divisions between the parties on spending priorities, but also in intraparty schisms. For the first time since the modern budget process was established, the Senate failed to pass a budget resolution setting spending guidelines for the year – largely because Democrats who control the Senate could not keep their party together behind such a plan.

In the House, appropriation bills were stalled largely by a power struggle within the GOP that pitted conservative leaders – who want to keep spending on non-entitlement programs to President Bush’s request of about $750 billion – against members of the powerful Appropriations Committee, who want to spend more.

To keep the government running after Oct. 1, Congress passed a series of short-term measures to keep funding at last year’s levels. The latest version would extend that funding level through Jan. 11, which is more than one-quarter into the current budget year.

That means most programs scheduled for increases in pending appropriation bills will not get them before mid-January, if then.

Critics say that shortchanges the bipartisan initiatives that reflect new priorities of the last year, including homeland security and corporate reform, for which big increases are in the pipeline.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., said holding spending to last year’s level amounted to “forcing the entire domestic side of the government to operate by automatic pilot.”

House Appropriations Chairman C.W. “Bill” Young, R-Fla., said in a memo to GOP leaders last month that freezing domestic program spending would have “disastrous impacts on the war on terror, homeland security and other important government responsibilities.`

To ease the pressure on the homeland security programs, the stopgap spending bill includes a provision giving the secretary of the new Department of Homeland Security authority to transfer up to $500 million between agencies being folded into the new department. It also provided $140 million in start-up costs for the agency.

Making up for another lapse of this Congress, the stopgap bill provides for an extension of the landmark 1996 welfare overhaul through Jan. 11. That law expires at the end of this year, but Congress did not reach agreement on a renewal; another bill to extend the program through March 2003 died in the House.

The stopgap spending bill guarantees that the first issue to come before the new Congress, which convenes Jan. 7, will be to settle spending disputes that have eluded lawmakers for months.

In a meeting with Republican appropriation leaders last week, Bush said he wanted the funding dispute resolved by the time he delivers his State of the Union address, either in late January or early February. He urged them to stick as close as possible to his $750 billion figure, a source familiar with the exchange said.

Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, incoming chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said he expected the final funding to be a little higher than that to accommodate additional demands on the president’s budget, such as drought aid and firefighting costs.

“We are working out a new number that would be effective,” Stevens said.

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