On Wednesday, the U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed the 2014 Omnibus Appropriations Bill. The $1.1 trillion spending bill, part of the budget agreement crafted between U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., clocked in with more than 1,500 pages and passed the House 359-67. The bill, which now heads to the U.S. Senate, where it is expected to pass, funds the federal government through September.
Most of the Republicans from Florida and all of the Democrats from the Sunshine State voted to pass the bill. The only congressmen from Florida voting against it were three Republicans -- U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, U.S. Rep. Rich Nugent and U.S. Rep. Bill Posey.
U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Fla., who sits on the House Appropriations Committee, sounded an optimistic note after voting for the bill on Wednesday.
As a member of the Appropriations Committee, Im very happy that were ending the era of government by short-term continuing resolution, mixed in with the occasional threat of a shutdown, Rooney said. This package isnt perfect, but it keeps spending in check, ensures that our national defense is adequately funded, removes the threat of a government shutdown, and funds a number of critical programs that serve my district and the state of Florida.
Rooney pointed at the bill containing $20 million to fight citrus greening. The citrus industry, which brings $9 billion to Florida anually and supports around 76,000 jobs, is increasingly worried about citrus greening with Florida currently seeing its smallest orange crop in 24 years.
Citrus greening is threatening to wipe out our citrus industry and if Florida isnt producing oranges, Americans arent drinking orange juice, Rooney said. By committing an additional $20 million in federal funding to fight citrus greening, we can better work with state governments, universities and industry leaders to control, mitigate, and find a cure for citrus disease. This provision is vital to preserving Floridas citrus industry, strengthening our states economy, and preserving a safe, affordable and abundant American food supply.
This bill allows us to fulfill our obligation as appropriators to weigh and prioritize each program, target funding toward those that are most important and effective, and eliminate or reduce spending on those that are less effective," Rooney insisted. This bill is good for taxpayers across the country, and its good for Floridas 17th District.
U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., also backed the funding bill, noting the funds being used to fight citrus greening.
Citrus greening is threatening the future of Floridas oranges and the related jobs right here in Sarasota and Manatee counties, Buchanan said. This measure is a positive first step toward combating this destructive disease.
Buchanan also cited the flood insurance delay against Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) as a reason to back the measure.
Hundreds of thousands of Floridians are experiencing untenable rate increases that threaten to wash away property values and push people out of their homes, said Buchanan. This bill will provide immediate relief for most policyholders while providing time for Congress to work on a permanent solution that reforms the nations flood insurance program.
All the Democrats in the delegation supported the measure. U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Fla., said the bill would provide a good start when it comes to flood insurance which will give FEMA time to find a better solution for Florida homeowners.
"I have been pressing for relief from the arbitrary increases for many months, Castor said. The act would immediately halt increases for existing homeowners and help approximately 2 million Florida families through fiscal year 2014. During the delay, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and Congress need to go back to the drawing board for a permanent fix to ensure that our neighbors and small-business owners do not suffer unconscionable increases.
Noting the bill is not perfect, U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Fla., also supported the bill, insisting it was a step in the right direction because it ends many of the savage and ill-conceived cuts under sequestration. Wilson also praised the measure for sending funds to education and for the flood insurance delay.
The bill increases education funding -- including fully funding Head Start and $250 million in grants to expand preschool programs -- and will result in new job-creating investments in research and infrastructure, Wilson said. The bill also includes language to delay certain flood insurance premium increases that would impact Florida homeowners. As a lifelong educator and a sponsor of legislation to end sequestration, invest in job-creation, and address the flood insurance crisis, I was very pleased to see the inclusion of these provisions in the bill.
U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Fla., praised the measure for cutting $165 billion from the federal budget and noted this was the first time in six decades it went down four years in a row. Bilirakis also praised the bill for not adding additional monies to fund President Barack Obamas health care law.
With todays vote, the House came together in a bipartisan fashion to cut spending and put our countrys fiscal house on a stable and secure path all while not raising taxes on the American people, said Bilirakis. In passing this legislation, we have made the tough decisions this country needs: prioritizing our spending, protecting our troops and veterans, cutting wasteful programs, and giving all hard-working Americans certainty.
U.S. Rep. Ander Crenshaw, R-Fla., the chairman of the House Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Subcommittee, also said the bill was a victory for fiscal conservatism.
For the fourth year in a row, Congress has cut discretionary spending -- a real accomplishment that has not happened since the Korean War, Crenshaw said. We are serious about changing Washingtons culture of spending to a culture of saving and have matched words with action.
Crenshaw pointed toward the bills inclusion of funds to help three cruisers based in Mayport on the First Coast.
Tough choices are part of the job on Capitol Hill, but I will not sacrifice ships that still have years of life left in them for short-term budget cuts, Crenshaw said. These ships are a critical part of our fleet and are needed to accomplish all of the national security missions asked of our Navy. Passage of the 2014 Omnibus (bill) includes funding for three Mayport-based cruisers, underscoring Congresss commitment to a strong defense and Northeast Floridas role as an anchor to our national security, said Crenshaw. Under the agreement, the USS Gettysburg (CG-64), the USS Hue City (CG-66), and the USS Vicksburg (CG-69) will continue to sail proudly, and the sailors that serve on them will continue to be a part of the Mayport community.
The First Coast congressman also found other aspects of the omnibus bill to praise.
Congress took a major step today to hold the line on spending, Crenshaw insisted. We passed a bill that cuts big-government programs, refuses to rely on tax increases and protects national security from devastating defense cuts. Our most basic responsibility is to fund government operations: this bill accomplishes that goal.
As chairman of the subcommittee that funds the Internal Revenue Service, I made sure that Obamacare receives no additional funds from the IRS, he added. We also prohibit this agency from using funds to target groups based on political belief a practice that has no place in a free society.
But not all conservatives agreed with Bilirakis and Crenshaws assessment of the spending bill. Fiscal conservative group Americans for Prosperity (AFP) tried to rally opposition to the measure.
Congress has shown an unwillingness to live up to its agreements on spending control," said Christine Harbon Hanson, AFPs federal affairs manager. Following the framework of the Ryan-Murray budget deal, this omnibus appropriations legislation establishes an overall spending level of $1 trillion in FY 2014, far exceeding the discretionary spending caps established in the Budget Control Act of 2011. Congress is trading higher spending levels now for promises to cut spending in the future, when these spending cuts will probably never be realized.
AFP also has concerns about the process, Hanson added. The federal budget process has completely broken down over the past few years, and Congress should return to regular order. Its alarming that we are already into the second quarter of FY 2014, and congressional appropriators are just now determining the 302(b) levels. The appropriations process is supposed to happen over the course of several months, not over the course of 72 hours. Congress should consider the 12 appropriations bills separately, not roll them into one. This is hugely concerning because it means that congressional appropriators are not combing through the line items in the budget and prioritizing spending, leading to ever-higher spending levels.
But the measure found little in the way of opposition from the Florida delegation which is solidly Republican. DeSantis voted against the bill, insisting it hurts veterans and will increase spending.
This bill fails to reform an unaccountable government, increases spending by tens of billions, and solely targets retired military personnel the one group of Americans who have given the most to our country for negative treatment, DeSantis said. We can do much better for American taxpayers and veterans.
Reach Kevin Derby at email@example.com.