CHN: Omnibus Appropriations Bill Moving Forward
House and Senate appropriators are working quickly to wrap up a $285 billion omnibus spending bill for fiscal year 2004 before Thanksgiving. The bill will fold five separate spending bills into one large package – including the Labor-HHS-Education, VA-HUD, and Commerce-Justice-State bills. The Senate is expected to take up the omnibus on Monday. It is unclear when the House will act, but Republican leadership has indicated it would like to adjourn for the year as soon as possible. Congress has been passing continuing resolutions to keep the government open until they agree on all thirteen spending bills for fiscal year 2004.
Across the Board Cut Possible
House appropriators are trying to fit an extra $1.1 billion into the Labor-HHS-Education bill for additional funding for Pell Grants, veteran’s medical care, election overhaul and foreign aid. To pay for these add-ons and still stay under the budget cap, negotiators are considering a 0.1 percent across-the-board spending cuts to all domestic discretionary programs and a 0.5 percent across the board cut from the bills currently operating at fiscal 2003 levels under the continuing resolution.
Overtime Pay Regulations Still Unresolved
One of the most contentious – and still unresolved – issues of the omnibus bill is a provision that would prevent the Department of Labor from implementing its proposed new rules on overtime pay. The White House has threatened to veto a bill that includes the provision, but a majority of Senators, including Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Arlen Specter (R-PA) and Ranking Member Tom Harkin (D-IA) oppose the new rules. Advocates and labor unions fear that if the new overtime rules are implemented, eight million workers will lose their right to overtime pay. Senator Specter has called on the White House to agree to delaying implementation of the new rules for three months.