CHN: Congress Extends Temporary Spending Measure Through December 18: The Senate May Finish Two More Appropriations Bills This Week
Congress enacted the FY 2010 Interior-Environment appropriations bill on October 29, and attached to it a temporary extension of spending for departments covered by as yet unfinished appropriations legislation. The Interior-Environment bill is the fifth to go to the President; he has already signed appropriations bills for Agriculture, Energy-Water, Homeland Security, and Legislative Branch. The conference agreement for Interior-Environment passed the House 247-178 and the Senate 72-28.
Members of the Republican minority in the Senate opposed attaching the Continuing Resolution (CR) extending the rest of appropriations to the Interior-Environment bill, because they wished to introduce amendments to the stopgap spending measure. The majority leadership attached the CR to the next completed spending bill expressly to avoid an onslaught of amendments. It required 60 votes to waive a point of order to prevent attaching the temporary spending provision. The leadership prevailed by getting every Democratic Senator to vote to waive the point of order in a 60-40 strictly party-line vote.
Although the House has passed all dozen appropriations bills, the Senate has yet to get floor votes on five remaining bills. Two may come up during the week of November 2: Commerce-Justice-Science and Military Construction-Veterans Affairs. Commerce-Justice-Science was stalled because Senators Vitter (R-LA) and Bennett (R-UT) sought an amendment to add questions to the decennial census about citizenship/immigrant status. Senator Vitter was explicit in acknowledging that the amendment was intended as a first step towards prohibiting counting non-citizens for purposes of congressional apportionment. Bipartisan constitutional authorities have rejected this as unconstitutional. Advocates for immigrants and for low-income people opposed the amendment both for its ultimate intent and also for its likely impact in discouraging immigrants from participating in the census. The decennial census is used by communities nationwide to assist in planning the development of services and facilities; an accurate count of every resident is necessary for effective planning. Further, the amendment was opposed by six former Census Bureau directors, who wrote to the Senate that inserting new questions at this late date would inevitably delay the census, compromise its integrity and accuracy, and cost billions of dollars. If the Senate leadership is confident it has the votes to defeat such an amendment, it will probably take up Commerce-Justice-Science this week.
The appropriations bill covering the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education has not yet passed the Senate. Its agencies are subject to the temporary spending CR, which means that their spending is flat-funded until final FY 2010 spending decisions are made. Low-income housing programs funded in the Department of Housing and Urban Development are also covered by the CR – and also flat-funded. Many programs of importance to low-income people are included in these bills. Because many programs (for example, job training, education, home energy assistance, and child care) received two-year increases as part of the economic recovery legislation, they are able to meet at least some of the growing demand for services. But not all programs covered by these agencies received economic recovery funding. In particular, child welfare services were largely untouched by the recovery act. At a time when some states are even cutting back on services to protect children from abuse or neglect, level-funding for these services is worrisome.