Democrats use omnibus to eviscerate Bush policies
Democrats, freed from former President George W. Bush’s veto threats, are gutting the previous administration’s programs with funding cuts and policy changes in the omnibus spending bill that the House passed Feb. 25.
From including language to “consider” government health care benefits for same-sex domestic partners of federal workers to eliminating District of Columbia school vouchers, which they consider an affront to the public school system, Democrats say there are plenty of wrongs to right in Mr. Bush’s wake.
The pork-laden bill also slashes funds for abstinence education and erases language prohibiting a “fairness doctrine” law that threatens to squelch conservative talk radio.
“There’s a lot of damage to repair [. . . ] and I’m dying to get it done,” said Rep. Louise M. Slaughter, New York Democrat and chairman of the House Rules Committee. “We’re trying to get back in the 21st century here.”
House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank, Massachusetts Democrat, said the omnibus was merely a first step. He said the spending bill would be followed soon by expanded funding for stem-cell research and a hate crimes law.
“You’ll see more of it [. . .] where our winning will make change for the better,” Mr. Frank said. “That’s what happens when you have an election and one side wins and the other side loses.”
The House passed the $410 billion omnibus bill, which funds most of the government for the remainder of the fiscal year that ends Sept. 30, in a near party-line 245-178 vote, with 16 Republicans crossing party lines to support the spending package and 16 Democrats breaking ranks to vote against it.
The legislation now goes to the Senate, where fierce debate is expected this week. Republicans object to the bill’s high price tag, redundant spending on programs funded by the $787 billion economic stimulus and more than 9,000 pet projects worth $12.8 billion that members of both parties tacked onto the bill.
Despite President Obama’s oftstated distaste for earmark pork and the ways of Washington, the White House said it will not take a stand against the projects because the legislation originated under the previous administration and therefore represents the final Bush budget bill.
Still, the omnibus rolls back more than a dozen Republican priorities as it implants the stamp of Mr. Obama and the Democrat-led Congress on government. It boosts spending for family planning in foreign countries without the Bush administration “Mexico City policy,” which prohibited funds from going to organizations that perform or promote abortions. Those funds increased by $88 million over past year to $545 million.
Mr. Obama already has signed a series of executive orders to overturn Bush polices, from regulations that restricted labor unions to rules governing the detention and treatment of suspected terrorists.
Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana, chairman of the House Republican Conference, said the bill “wages war on many of the most cherished policies of social conservatives of the past quarter century.”
He said he was not surprised that Democrats are relishing the moment.
“It reflects their liberal social agenda. I don’t know how happy the American people will be,” he said. “They will be deeply disappointed how quickly one-party liberal government has departed from their values.”
The omnibus reduces by nearly half the spending on Mr. Bush’s signature foreign aid program, the Millennium Challenge Corp., halts a pilot program allowing Mexican trucks into the U.S. for cross-border commerce, and weakens travel restrictions to Cuba.
The funding cuts and policy rewrites aimed at Mr. Bush’s legacy come within a package that overall increases spending 8 percent — about $32 billion — above 2008 levels for the nine annual appropriations bills included in the omnibus.
The other three annual appropriations bills — funding the Defense, Veterans Affairs and Homeland Security departments — passed last year with a continuing resolution that has kept the rest of the government running at 2008 funding levels since the fiscal year began Oct. 1.
That stopgap funding expires March 6.
The omnibus spending increases come on the heels of the $700 billion Wall Street bailout under Mr. Bush and a $787 billion economic stimulus Mr. Obama signed into law last month.
It will be followed by Mr. Obama’s first budget, which the president promises will begin the process of cutting the $1.3 trillion federal deficit to $533 billion in four years.
Republican leaders criticized the omnibus as more of Democrats’ “borrow-and-spend” governing and called for a freeze on government spending at 2008 levels.
Democrats said the added spending was needed to make up for nearly a decade of cuts to vital services by Mr. Bush and his Republican allies in Congress.
“Last year, President Bush refused to fund our cops and firefighters, energy research to reduce our dependence on foreign oil, health care reform and education,” said Rep. John B. Larson of Connecticut, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus. “By restoring this funding, we are investing in our national priorities, putting Americans back to work and building a stronger economy for the future.”
Democrats said the omnibus was necessary only because of Mr. Bush’s veto threat last year for any appropriation bills that exceeded his spending limit. They said Mr. Bush’s programs would have been funded through the end of the fiscal year if he had allowed added spending for some of the Democrats’ priorities.
“What goes around comes around,” said Rep. Lynn Woolsey of California, co-chairman of the 71-member Progressive Caucus that makes up about a third of the House Democratic majority.
She said “fixing things” was what voters demanded.
“That’s why they voted for Barack Obama for president and why we have such a large majority in the House and in the Senate,” Mrs. Woolsey said.
Liberals triumphant: Rep. Barney Frank