Congress Looks to Complete Fiscal Year 2009 Funding Bills
On Feb. 23, the House released details of a $410 billion omnibus spending bill. The bill would continue funding large portions of the federal government for the remainder of the fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30. The omnibus bill bundles appropriations for nine out of 12 spending bills set to expire on March 6. The Senate is expected to pick up the legislation the first week of March.
At the close of the last fiscal year – Sept. 30, 2008 – Congress approved a continuing resolution (a stop-gap spending bill) to fund education, scientific research, nutrition and housing services, and a host of other vital federally funded programs. This was needed because Congress only acted on three appropriations bills in 2008, covering the Pentagon, Homeland Security, and Veterans Affairs. Democrats in Congress felt they could not resolve their differences with former President Bush and opted for the continuing resolution to continue funding the government until March 6. Work on completing legislation to fund the operations of the federal government resumed in earnest during the week of Feb. 23.
When the House Appropriations Committee unveiled summaries of the nine remaining spending areas on Feb. 23, it also posted the legislative text of its FY 2009 spending plans on the committee’s website. The $410 billion spending package would be more than an eight percent increase over FY 2008 and would increase funding for many important programs, including:
- $6.9 billion for the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) nutrition program, a $1.2 billion increase over FY 2008
- $3.2 billion for state and local law enforcement and crime prevention, $495 million above FY 2008
- $2 billion to study global climate change, a $262 million increase over last fiscal year
- $5.1 billion, $337 million above 2008, for IRS enforcement
- $30.3 billion for the National Institutes of Health to research diseases such as Alzheimer’s, cancer, and diabetes, a $938 million increase over FY 2008
- $17.3 billion for college education grants, $3 billion more than in FY 2008
The omnibus bill would also mark a turning point in the trend of privatization of federal government services. Significantly, it would end the IRS's inefficient Private Debt Collection Program (PDC). The PDC not only unnecessarily puts taxpayers' sensitive personal information at risk, but, as Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olson has repeatedly pointed out, it is a waste of federal resources. The bill would also put on hold the Commercial Services Management Initiative. This government-wide program that pits private contractors against federal employees in competitions to determine who can deliver federal programs at the lowest cost has been criticized by the Government Accountability Office and has been ultimately ineffective at reducing agency costs.
Seven of the nine annual appropriations bills have been approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee, and four have been approved by the House Appropriations Committee (all have been approved by House Appropriations subcommittees). Although the text of these committee reports is available online through the Library of Congress's website Thomas, congressional Republicans are calling for greater transparency in the appropriations process. House Republican Leadership penned a letter to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) asking that they make the text of the bill and an explanatory statement available online. Echoing President Obama's rhetoric on transparency, the authors stated that "[r]ecent experience has demonstrated that transparency, scrutiny, and regular order are essential tools for crafting effective and prudent legislation." House Democrats, following Obama’s lead and agreeing with the Republican request, have made available online legislative text and a bill summary.