The Budget for 2004 is Finally Done

Just in time for the start of the Year of the Monkey, on Thursday, Jan. 22, the Senate passed the omnibus conference report (HR 2673) which was approved by the House a month ago.

The omnibus bill includes funding for the 7 appropriations that were not passed for fiscal year 2004, and up to $11 billion in "pork" projects (according to Sen. John McCain (R-AZ)) and a number of controversial provisions. The vote was 65-28. Passage came after Tuesday's successful filibuster by Democrats and several Republicans to block a vote on the bill by 48-45. The vote to consider the bill with no further delay (cloture vote) on Thursday barely passed on a 61-32 vote - just one vote more than needed for a three-fifths majority. Passage came after Republicans threatened to push through a continuing resolution (CR) for the remainder of fiscal year 2004. A CR would fund departments and agencies at last year's level, which would mean billions of cuts no funding for special interest projects. The bill amounts to a total of $820 billion, including $373 billion for appropriations. President Bush signed it into law on Friday, Jan. 23.

Besides the fact that the appropriations process for 2004 is finished, there is not much else to be said in favor of the omnibus bill. It represents a huge victory for the administration, which largely shaped the final form of the bill including a number of non-appropriation related legislative provisions that run contrary to previous actions by the House and/or Senate.

The bill:

  • Fails to block Department of Labor plans to weaken overtime pay rules which will deny overtime pay to 8 million American workers, according to the Economic Policy Institute;
  • Delays "country-of-origin" labeling of supermarket meat and produce for two years - from September 30, 2004 to September 30, 2006;
  • Fails to include protections for the 400,000 federal workers whose jobs are targeted for privatization
  • Requires the destruction within 24 hours of background check records for gun purchase applications, eliminating the previous requirement that those records be kept for 90 days;
  • Fails to block FCC media ownership rules allowing an increase in the number of television stations that one network can own from 36 percent to 39 percent of the nation's audience, which will allow media conglomerates to own more television stations. This 39 percent coincidentally mirrors current ownership levels of Viacom’s CBS and News Corporation’s Fox;
  • Includes $18 million for a school voucher program in DC, allowing public funds to be used for private school tuition; and
  • Continues the ban on Americans traveling to Cuba.

Democrats vowed to take action on some of the objectionable provisions in amendments to other upcoming bills, or, in the case of the overtime provision, through efforts to rescind the Department of Labor regulation after it is finalized.

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