The House of Representatives has approved by a vote 338 to 83 a massive budget bill to fund government operations and provide foreign assistance. The bill was the subject of intense debate between Democrats and Republicans:
In the last session of Congress, the House and Senate failed to pass all but two of 13 appropriations bills for the 2003 fiscal year that began October First.
Two emergency funding measures, called continuing resolutions, were required to keep the government running into February.
The Senate approved what is called an "omnibus" budget package in January, and the House followed suit. Then, House and Senate negotiators finally approved a compromise conference report totalling $397-billion.
As the House prepared to debate the huge 3,000 page bill, Democrats complained that Republicans attached last minute "rider" bills to the budget bill that were harmful to the environment.
Democrats also charge Republicans with under-funding education priorities set out by President Bush.
House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi took Republicans to task for these, and accused Republicans of failing to adequately fund homeland security. "The administration refuses to spend $2.5 billion in emergency money for homeland security, that Congress appropriated last year including 800-million dollars specifically for first responders," she said.
House Appropriations Committee Chairman, Republican Congressman Bill Young said the bill provides sufficient funds for homeland security, and urged its passage by the House.
"I'm sure this bill is not going to please everyone in all respects, and I don't know any bill we bring to the floor does. But it does address many important needs of the country," he said.
Democrats say the legislation underfunds by $450 million the needs of "first responders" police, firefighters, and emergency workers in cities and states, who would be relied on to respond first to possible terrorist attacks. After approval by the Republican-controlled House and the Senate, the bill goes on to the President for his signature.
Since Vice President Dick Cheney was closely involved in last minute negotiations on the budget conference report, the President is expected to sign the legislation.
Passage of the 2003 spending bill would clear the way for Congress to begin consideration of the President's 2004 budget, his $700-billion economic stimulus plan, and the expected supplemental bill to fund a possible war in Iraq.