House passes first approps bill after long day of votes

House Democrats passed the first spending bill for 2010 Thursday evening after frustrated GOPers kept lawmakers voting all day on amendment after amendment.

The $64.4 billion Commerce, Justice and Science appropriations bill won approval on a 259-157 vote that went largely along party lines. The bill seeks to fund the Commerce and Justice departments and federal science programs, including NASA. The bill would increase spending in those departments by nearly 12 percent over the current levels.

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House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.) has laid out a detailed schedule that seeks to get the House to approve the 12 spending bills before the August recess. Senate Democrats have also said they wish to pass the bills on time — before the start of the next fiscal year, Oct. 1 — but the Senate has yet to get its first bill onto the floor. Congress hasn't passed all of the spending measures before the start of the fiscal year since 1994.

Obey had slated the Commerce, Justice and Science measure for House passage Wednesday, but it stalled over a debate over how many amendments Republicans could offer on the floor.

Obey and Democrats limited the amendments to 33, down from the total of 127 initially offered. Republicans had offered more than 100 amendments, most of them aimed at reducing spending. While Republicans protested the lack of open debate, Obey criticized the GOP strategy of trying to throw up procedural obstacles to the Democrats' agenda.

The GOP frustration spilled over into Thursday, as Republicans forced Democrats to take vote after vote on the amendments. Voting started at 10:30 in the morning and continued until 6:30 in the evening.

Republicans said that the Democrats' decision to limit debate and the amendments worked against them.

"If we'd had an open rule, we would have finished yesterday," said Michael Steel, a spokesman for House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio).

The marathon voting session bogged down other business in the House. Various hearings — including a Budget Committee hearing with White House Budget Director Peter Orszag and an Appropriations Committee markup on another spending bill — were postponed until later in the  
day or until next week.

"Instead of taking up Democrats' offer to work together on the American people's priorities, the 'party of no' kept up their record of partisan obstruction again today," said Katie Grant, a spokeswoman for House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.).

House Democrats hope to pass the spending bill for the legislative branch's operations Friday and for the Department of Homeland Security next week.