House approves $630B spending bill
The Pentagon will receive a record $488B budget; automakers get $25B in loans; offshore drilling ban lifted.
WASHINGTON (AP) — The House passed a $630 billion-plus spending bill Wednesday that wraps together a record Pentagon budget with aid for automakers and natural disaster victims, and increased health care for veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.
The year-end budget measure also would lift a quarter-century ban on oil drilling off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts. The legislation, which senators are expected to approve and send to President Bush for his signature, is flying under the political radar compared with the White House’s contentious plan to bail out Wall Street.
The spending bill, which passed 370-58, is fueled by a need to keep the government running past the Oct. 1 start of the new budget year. Passage also was greased by 2,322 pet projects totaling $6.6 billion.
The measure is dominated by $488 billion for the Pentagon, $40 billion for the Homeland Security Department and $73 billion for veterans’ programs and military base construction projects — amounting to about 60% of the budget work Congress must pass each year.
Earlier this year, Congress provided $70 billion for U.S. operations in Iraq and Afghanistan; more will be needed by mid-2009.
The budget legislation is the result of months of wrangling between Democrats who control Congress and the lame-duck Bush administration and its allies on Capitol Hill. The administration won approval of the defense budget while Democrats wrested concessions from the White House on disaster aid, heating subsidies for the poor and smaller spending items.
In a major victory for Republicans in this election season, Democrats capitulated and agreed to lift the offshore drilling ban. The administration also succeeded in blocking Democrats’ efforts to extend unemployment insurance, increase food stamp payments and help states deal with shortfalls in their Medicaid budgets.
Democrats doubled the money for heating subsidies for the poor and successfully pressed the White House for a generous $23 billion aid plan for disaster-ravaged states. The measure would avert a shortfall in Pell college aid grants and address problems in the Women, Infants and Children program, which delivers healthy foods to the poor.
Bush had threatened to veto bills that did not cut the number and cost of pet projects in half or cause agency operating budgets to exceed his request.
The legislation includes an increase for the census as well as money to cover transition costs for the incoming administration. It provides money for 20 F-22 fighter planes over and above the Pentagon request, and additional dollars for armored vehicles, body armor and combating roadside bombs.
Veterans’ health programs are in line for a 10% increase; veterans driving to Veterans Affairs’ medical clinics would get an increase in mileage reimbursements; federal firefighting accounts would be replenished; Georgia would receive $365 million in economic help to recover from the recent conflict with Russia.
After hard lobbying, automakers won up to $25 billion in low-interest loans to help them develop technologies and retool factories to meet new standards for cleaner, more fuel efficient cars.
The bill would pay, until March, for agencies whose budgets have not passed. This would eliminate the need for a much-dreaded, lame-duck session after the Nov. 4 election to deal with unfinished work.
The legislation came together in a remarkably secret process that concentrated decision-making power in the hands of a few lawmakers. They include House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey, D-Wis., and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
Republicans blasted the process by which the measure came before the House. Lawmakers had just a few hours to scrutinize the 357-page measure — along with 752 pages of accompanying explanations and tables of previously secret pet projects — before the vote. Debate lasted less than one hour.
The rush also ran counter to Democratic promises for more open disclosure of billions of dollars worth of home-state pet projects sought by most lawmakers.
Taxpayers for Common Sense, a watchdog group, discovered 2,322 pet projects totaling $6.6 billion. That included 2,025 in the defense portion alone that cost a total of $4.9 billion. Among them was a long-standing request by the Iowa delegation for a new $182 million federal courthouse in Cedar Rapids, which was granted after flood damage this summer.
House Republicans had started a major campaign this year to add further reforms to the pet project process. But Republican protests over such projects were limited at best. Instead, Republicans crowed over their success in lifting the drilling freeze.
Is it just me or is it obvious there is too much money going to the military and not enough to our own people?
Ya, I’m not suprised about the Democrats not keeping their promise about Open Disclosure, or their “pet” projects either.
I’m glad they finally pulled their heads out of their @#*s too and lifted the off shore drilling ban. Maybe now we won’t be going to war over oil, which is what Bush totally is over there for.
And why is Congress bailing out the car companies? What purpose does that serve?
The origional article is on CNN, here.