Under the Radar: Congress Finishes FY 2009 Approps

by Adam Hughes*, 9/30/2008

With all the action recently on the financial sector bailout, it almost slipped our notice that Congress has finalized the FY 2009 appropriations process, at least through March 6 of next year. Last week, on Wednesday (Sept. 24), the House passed its package of three appropriations bills (Defense, Homeland Security, and Military Construction-VA), along with a continuing resolution (CR) that will cover all the other sections of the government until March 6, 2009. The vote was 370-58. The Senate passed the House proposal over the weekend on Saturday by a vote of 78-12.

The CR was put together and passed in less than a week, with little transparency or time to review specific provisions, earmarks, and funding levels. The bill level-funds most government programs outside of the three individual security bills that were included and a few select programs and priorities in need of more immediate funding. These include the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), which received a $5.1 billion increase. This is more than double the $2.5 billion appropriated in FY 2008 and finally brings the program up to its authorized funding level. There is also $22.9 billion in emergency funding for disaster relief and $7.5 billion to support a $25 billion loan to the U.S. auto industry.

Even though this was the result of the appropriations process that everyone was expecting for most of this year, the result that Democratic leaders themselves had announced early on as a deliberate strategy, it is still pretty disappointing. In fact, it might be more disappointing because it was pre-ordained by Reid, Pelosi, and others on the Hill early on this year. Congress is supposed to pass appropriations bills on time. In fact, it is their primary responsibility. They have repeatedly failed to do this over the last decade regardless of circumstances, regardless of who controls Congress, and this year we've reached the point where they aren't even trying anymore. How can we expect them to enact a solution to the financial sector crisis if they can't even complete their basic job responsibilities?

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