House Unveils $410 Billion FY09 Omnibus Spending Measure

Published on: 09:42AM Feb 24, 2009
By Jim Wiesemeyer

via a special arrangement with Informa Economics, Inc.

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Cuba trade provisions tweaked in spending bill

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Democrats unveiled a $410 billion appropriations package Monday -- about $19 billion more than then-President George Bush had sought, and 8.7 percent above FY08. The document shows the areas the Democratic led House will focus on in the year ahead. The House will consider the bill Wednesday or Thursday, while the Senate could take it up later this week or next week -- Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said he does not expect the omnibus to be debated there until the week of March 2. President Obama will follow up Feb. 26 with his first budget outline, after previewing it in an address to a joint session of Congress this evening.

The omnibus spending measure consists of the nine fiscal 2009 appropriations bills that mostly fund domestic agencies. In September, the bills funding the departments of Defense, Homeland Security and Veterans Affairs were signed into law (PL 110-329). The omnibus that is moving to the House floor includes spending for domestic programs normally covered by the following bills: Agriculture; Commerce, Justice, Science; Energy and Water Development; Financial Services; Interior and the Environment; Labor, Health, and Education; Legislative Branch; State and Foreign Operations; and Transportation, Housing and Urban Development.

The omnibus would provide about $31 billion more than what was spent on the nine bills in Fiscal 2008, an 8.7 percent boost. It would fund most major domestic departments who are currently being funded mostly at fiscal 2008 levels by a continuing resolution (CR) that expires March 6.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) refused to address charges from Republicans that the omnibus represents one of the largest increases in discretionary spending since 1978. "Out-of-control government spending is not the answer to helping Americans get back to work," said Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.). "The excessive borrowing only ensures future generations of Americans are burdened with unsustainable debt." Pelosi called the new bill “the unfinished business of last year when the president refused to address the priorities and the needs of the American people.”

The 12 FY09 appropriations bills include 5 percent less funding for earmarks than in FY08, when $10 billion was included for these mostly parochial projects requested by members, according to the House Appropriations Committee.

Democrats cut or did not fund several of former President Bush’s priorities. For example, Bush’s signature foreign aid program, the Millennium Challenge Corporation, would receive $875 million, which is $1.35 billion less than he requested.

The omnibus measure also includes policy language opposed by the Bush administration. For instance, the bill would allow more frequent travel to Cuba by Americans with relatives there and would make it easier to sell agricultural products to Cuba.

Details on Cuba language: A provision would allow Cuban exiles to visit immediate family members in that nation annually, instead of only once every three years for no more than 14 days, and it would allow them to spend up to $170 a day (the current cap is $50 per day) and visit for an unlimited duration. Family would include first cousins, aunts and uncles rather than be limited to parents, siblings and grandparents. The bill also expands the definition of "close relative" for purposes of travel, and reverses the Bush administration's 2005 regulatory impediments on the sales of food and medicine to Cuba – it would change trade policy to allow Cuba to pay for agricultural imports upon arrival. Under current policy, Cuba must pay for imports before they leave U.S. ports.

The bill also deletes a Bush administration proposal to double the size of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, blocks a plan to allow Mexican trucks to operate widely in the US and ends a private debt-collection program run by the Internal Revenue Service.

The bill would not restore what had been a long-standing ban on offshore oil drilling that Democrats agreed to rescind last year after Republicans complained Congress was not doing enough to lower gas prices.
The Florida Everglades would get $183.4 million for restoration, a big down payment on the federal pledge to split the costs with Florida.

The House language deals with complaints by Chief Justice John Roberts that Congress has repeatedly failed to provide federal judges with cost-of-living pay increases. Roberts said in a December report that Congress “unfairly” denied inflation adjustments, which has led to a steady erosion in judicial pay. Under the omnibus legislation, circuit and district judges would get 2.8 percent increases to $184,500 and $174,000, respectively. Roberts’ salary would be boosted to $223,500 from $217,400, and Supreme Court associate justices would get $213,900, up from $208,100.

The Food and Drug Administration would receive $2 billion, $335 million more than last year. The National Institutes of Health would get $30.3 billion for disease research, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would receive $6.6 billion for public-health programs, both significant increases from the previous year.

The Department of Energy would receive $27 billion under the bill, a $2.5 billion increase from last year's level. Much of this would go toward efficiency programs and renewable energy. The bill also provides $10.1 billion for public transportation, $773 million more than in 2008.

The Environmental Protection Agency would receive a $174 million boost to $7.6 billion, while funding for programs dealing with climate change would jump to $232 million from $193 million.

The Agriculture Department would receive $20.5 billion in FY09 discretionary spending, splitting the difference between the $20.6 billion House bill and the Senate’s $20.4 billion proposal. The measure would be about $1.9 billion over Bush’s request and $2.5 billion over current spending. The agriculture provision includes funding for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which would receive $2 billion under the bill (HR 1105), about the same as proposed by the subcommittee and President Bush for FY09.

Additional funding would be allocated to domestic food aid. The omnibus proposes $6.9 billion for the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program, which is $300 million above the subcommittee’s earlier proposal and about $800 million more than Bush’s request, and an increase of $1.2 billion over FY08 levels. WIC also received $500 million in the recent stimulus package (PL 111-5). In June, subcommittee members were expecting WIC participation to rise to 8.9 million people, but according to a House Appropriations Committee summary, WIC enrollment is expected to jump by 400,000 in 2009 to 9.1 million. Another nutrition program, the Commodity Supplemental Food Program, would receive $160.4 million, an increase of $20.7 million from fiscal 2008 levels, according to the committee summary.

The bill proposes $1.2 billion to donate U.S. commodities to needy countries, about the same as Bush had requested.

The Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) would get $146 million, which is about $11 million above what the subcommittee had proposed earlier.

The omnibus proposal would allocate $14.5 million to roll out a nationwide animal tracking system that is aimed at preventing disease outbreaks, enhancing food safety and bolstering the farm economy.

The Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), which provides cost share assistance for farmers to implement conservation programs, would get nearly $1.1 billion. The total is $17 million more than the program received in fiscal 2008 but is still $270 million below the authorized amount in the farm bill.

The omnibus would block USDA from moving forward with a rule that would allow the United States to import poultry products from China.

Another provision would bar the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) from moving ahead with a “risk-based” program to inspect certain processing facilities until the agency adheres to recommendations from the USDA inspector general. The bill would fund the inspection agency at $972 million, about $20 million more than Bush had requested.

The bill also includes the following funding:
* $972 million for the Food Safety and Inspection Service;
* $1.2 billion for international food aid;
* $1.1 billion for the Agriculture Research Service;
* $1.2 billion for the Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service, another research group;
* $968 million for conservation programs;
* $14.5 million for national animal identification, $4.8 million more than in fiscal 2008;
* $881 million for plant and animal health; and
* $40.3 million for livestock competition.

NOTE: This column is copyrighted material, therefore reproduction or retransmission is prohibited under U.S. copyright laws.