CHN: Omnibus Appropriations Bill Funds Major Programs; Defense Bill Carries Important Extensions

All 12 of the individual appropriations bills which annually fund federal discretionary programs passed the House before the August recess but were tied up in procedural knots in the Senate where three of the bills passed in committee but never reached the Senate floor.  Five of the bills were enacted into law by the time fiscal year (FY) 2010 began on October 1.  The remaining seven were being funded under a temporary continuing resolution at FY 2009 levels pending further action by the House and Senate.  Congress bundled 6 of the bills into one omnibus spending bill, H.R. 3288, which passed the House 221-202 on December 10 and the Senate 57-35 on December 13.   The $447 billion bill funds discretionary programs in Labor-HHS-Education, Transportation-HUD, Military Construction-VA, Commerce-Justice-Science, Financial Services, and State-Foreign Operations.
Democratic leaders held the last remaining bill, the Defense Appropriations bill (H.R. 3326) as a vehicle to attach other critical legislation. On December 16, the House voted 395-34 to add expiring non-Defense provisions to the bill, which provides $636 billion for the Department of Defense including $128 billion for war operations.  First the Senate needed to garner 60 votes to cut off debate to end a Republican filibuster, increasingly becoming the norm in a deeply partisan Senate.  The vote to end the filibuster passed 60-34.  Ultimately the Senate passed H.R. 3326 by a vote of 88-10.

The bill includes funding to extend through February 2010 emergency unemployment benefits and subsidies for unemployed workers to continue receiving health insurance from their previous employer, known as COBRA, that were part of American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) enacted in February 2009.  Democratic leaders hope to include a longer extension of these benefits in a jobs bill early next year.  (See Jobs Bill article in this issue of the Human Needs Report.)  H.R 3226 provides $400 million to administer the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) whose enrollment has escalated to 36 million.

Also included in the bill is funding to prevent cuts to physicians in the Medicare program (known as the “doc fix”), and it extends provisions in the Patriot Act, the National Flood Insurance Program, surface transportation programs, and selected loan programs in the Small Business Administration.

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