Around the State
Congress has nicknamed it a minibus because it is smaller than the “omnibus” appropriations bill which contains all 12 spending bills. Congress has come to the conclusion that marrying all the spending bills into one bill is not the most efficient way to legislate.
They are planning to do two more of these “minibuses” between now and Nov. 18, which is when the current omnibus spending bill expires. So while the House was on a weeklong recess, the Senate battled through the three appropriations bills that make up the current minibus appropriations bill. The bill the Senate debated this week includes funding for the following departments of our federal government:
- Housing and urban affairs.
The Senate considered dozens of amendments to this appropriations bill, with most amendments failing to pass. However, one amendment that passed unanimously was by Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, that ends funding for the "Fast and Furious" gun-running program. This is a program within the Department of Justice and administered by our Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agency that permitted guns to be sold to Mexican drug lords. The idea was to track these guns to major crimes.
However, a federal DEA agent was killed in the line of duty with one of these guns which began the unraveling of the program. Congress has been investigating who in the administration authorized the ill-fated program. Since the investigations are ongoing, the Senate believed it was time to zero-fund the program. So by a vote of 97-0 the program will not be funded if the language remains in the bill and the bill is signed by our president.
The Senate worked into the wee hours of Friday morning before agreeing to limit the overall debate on the agriculture appropriations bill by invoking cloture. This means that the Senate will conclude the debate after a short number of amendments are debated and disposed of on Tuesday, Nov. 1.
The Senate also failed to agree to begin debate on two pieces of the president’s stimulus bill. You see, the Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., broke apart the president’s $447 stimulus/jobs bill and began to push sections of the bill individually.
The ones the Senate considered this past week were the $35 billion stimulus provision that was to pay teachers and first responders, and a proposal to repeal the 3 percent withholding of pay to vendors who do business with the federal government. Originally, the idea of withholding the 3 percent was to make sure that the small businesses paid taxes.
Because the payoff or offset to pay for the teachers’ provision was to come from small-business owners and anyone who made over $1 million, the Senate GOP along with three Senate Democrats rejected that portion of the stimulus bill. The vote needed 60 senators to vote yes to agree to begin the debate. When the final tally was called, the vote was 50-50.
The entire GOP side of the aisle voted against the proposal, along with Democratic Sens. Mark Pryor from Arkansas and Ben Nelson from Nebraska. Independent Sen. Joe Lieberman from Connecticut also joined the Senate Republicans.
The second piece of the president’s stimulus bill, the one that was to repeal the 3 percent withholding, also failed to garner the 60 votes needed to proceed. That vote ended with a tally of 57-43.
The Senate will be in recess this week while the House returns to debate a change in Obamacare that the president has said in the past is needed. This bill, HR 2576, changes the definition of the adjusted income so that people making above a certain income won’t be eligible for programs designed for lower-income Americans that were included in Obamacare.
Since this change removes eligibility of people in certain income levels, it results in a savings and thus reduces the deficit. The House will also consider HR 674, which is a permanent repeal of the 3 percent withholding from government vendors. This repeal is designed to spur small-business spending and hiring.
Elizabeth B. Letchworth is a retired, elected United States Senate secretary for the majority and minority. Currently she is a senior legislative adviser for Covington & Burling, LLC and is the founder of GradeGov.com.