Congressional Observer: December 2007

 - November 30, 2007, 11:32 AM

• At press time, appropriations for the 12 government agencies were still in the holding pattern. As of the middle of last month it seemed unlikely that new bills would be approved by November 16, the last day of a Continuing Resolution that allowed agencies to continue doing business at the same spending level as last year. The last time Congress passed all its appropriations bills by September 30, the end of the government fiscal year, was 1977.

Senate and House conferees have agreed on a $471.2 billion military spending bill that had to go to a floor vote but, just in case, lawmakers added a continuing resolution to keep the government working. The lack of funding creates government inefficiencies and inhibits such management functions as planning and contracting. Uncertainty about final appropriations causes many managers to hoard money and delay hiring and  purchasing decisions. Without continuing resolutions, government agencies would have to close shop until Congress acts.

The Senate did pass the first of the 12 authorization bills, a $606 billion House-Senate compromise measure to fund the Labor-Health and Human Services agencies by a vote of 56-37. President Bush had threatened to veto the bill, which could set the stage for the fight between Bush and Democrats to add $23 billion to Bush’s $933 billion cap for agency budgets.

• President Bush vetoed H.R.1495, the “Water Resources Development Act of 2007,” a $23.2 billion bill that addressed pressing infrastructure needs and many home-district projects. Bush said that the bill lacked fiscal discipline and did not set priorities. The House voted–by a vote of 361-54–to override a veto by President Bush. The Senate followed, overriding the bill by a vote of 79-14. It is the first instance of either body overriding a veto from President Bush.

• Earmark or pork reform promised by Democrats was showing little sign of success. For example, the aforementioned Labor-Health and Human Services act contained 401 pork amendments worth $191.3 million. Washington spending watchdog Citizens Against Government Waste named Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) “Porker of the Month” for an $11 million earmark that would fund construction of a 70,000-sq-ft interdisciplinary health services building at his alma mater, the University of Alabama. Over the years, Shelby has steered $35.5 million in federal funds to the university, which proudly opened Shelby Hall in appreciation.

Brian Riedl, chief budget analyst for the Heritage Foundation, waded through the funding bills stacked up in Congress and found another 11,351 pork projects that would needlessly spend tens of billions of dollars. Among the pork amendments were $2 million for the Charles B. Rangel Center for Public Service at the City College of New York named after the House Ways and Means Committee Chairman from Harlem; $1 million for the Clinton School of Public Service in Little Rock, Ark.; $200,000 for the Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy in Las Vegas to be named after the multi-millionaire tennis player; $3.74 million for the Formosan Subterranean Termite; and $500,000 for a special-interest project called “Our Piece of the Pie” in Hartford, Conn.

• Aviation bills submitted included:

- S.3925, introduced by Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.), would direct the FAA Administrator to issue an order requiring the installation of secondary cockpit barriers to prevent access to the flight deck of any commercial aircraft operating under FAR 121.

- H.R.3939, introduced by Rep. John Doolittle (R-Calif.), would increase the safety for crew and passengers on an aircraft providing emergency medical services. The bill would require a pilot of an aircraft providing emergency medical services to comply with regulations under FAR Part 135 and require that pilots of such aircraft use a checklist to determine whether to accept a mission.

- S.2260 and S.2265, introduced by Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), would extend the existing provision regarding the eligibility for essential air service subsidies through FY08.

- S.2276, the “Aeronautics Competitiveness Act of 2007,” introduced by Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.), would enhance U.S. competitiveness in aeronautics. The bill would increase the appropriations for NASA to $1.089 billion for FY09, with increases for Fiscal Years 2010 and 2011.