House, Senate panel approves combined spending bills

House and Senate conferees approved a package that combined two fiscal 2008 spending bills -- the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs and the Labor, Health and Human Services and Education Departments, and Related Agencies appropriations acts. Both bills passed overwhelmingly when they were voted on separately.

President Bush previously indicated that he would veto the Labor/HHS bill because appropriators did not make cuts elsewhere, but he would sign the VA bill, although that also surpassed his budget request.

Conferees are representatives of both parties who work together to resolve differences in the House and Senate versions of bills.

“I am disappointed that we have had to combine bills together,” said Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.), chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, in a statement released Nov. 1. “The president has irresponsibly chosen to slow the appropriations process by threatening to veto 10 of the 12 bills.”

The $64.7 billion military construction and Veterans Affairs spending bill is $15 billion above fiscal 2007 appropriations and $4 billion above the president’s request. Of the total, $43.1 billion is for VA, the largest increase in the department’s history. The majority goes to veterans’ health care and includes increased funding for treating traumatic brain injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder. The bill also targets funds for 1,800 new claims processors to address the backlog of 400,000 benefit claims.

The $150.7 billion for Labor, HHS, Education and related agencies is $6.2 billion above the amount appropriated in fiscal 2007 and $9.8 billion over the president’s request. The bill surpasses the administration’s request for some K-12 programs, college affordability efforts, job training and medical research. It also provides more money than the president requested for the Social Security Administration to reduce its backlog of disability claims.

Democratic appropriations leaders had also considered incorporating the Defense Department spending bill but did not. Bush blasted the concept.

“It's hard to imagine a more cynical ploy than holding funding for our troops and our wounded warriors hostage in order to extract $11 billion in wasteful Washington spending,” the president said in remarks at the Heritage Foundation Nov. 1. “If the reports of this strategy are true, I will veto such a three-bill pileup.”

About the Author

Mary Mosquera is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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