Back in session: House readies more spending bills

House Democrats intend to move more spending bills to the House floor when they return from recess, despite Republican complaints of having limited input on the measures.

The House, in its first week back from the Fourth of July break, may vote on as many as three spending measures for next year: one to fund the Department of Agriculture, another for the State Department and foreign operations and a third that funds military construction and the Department of Veterans Affairs.

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The House has already passed four appropriations measures, putting Democratic lawmakers in position to move the dozen spending bills out of the chamber by August, a goal of House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.).

But the debate over the annual spending bills has drawn strong objections from GOP members, who are unhappy with restrictions Democrats have placed on the number of amendments they can offer. As a result, three of the four bills passed on mostly party-line votes.

Obey and Senate leaders aim to get all 12 annual appropriations bills to President Obama before Oct. 1, the start of the fiscal year. That hasn't happened since 1994. Most of the spending bills for fiscal 2009 weren't passed until March, when Congress packaged the bills together in omnibus legislation.

The full Senate has yet to vote on any of the 2010 spending bills, but Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said the upper chamber will vote on the spending measures for legislative branch operations and for homeland security on Monday and Tuesday, respectively.  Three other spending measures have been reported out of the Senate Appropriations Committee, but Senate leaders have struggled to get the full chamber to act on them.

Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) blocked a vote last month on the first spending bill, for legislative branch operations, insisting Senate leaders allow Republicans to offer amendments aimed at reducing spending.

Republicans in both chambers have sought to force floor debates on the bills to highlight proposed increases in spending at a time the deficit is expected to reach $1.8 trillion. Discretionary spending would increase by as much as 7.6 percent this year under the proposals of the House Democratic appropriators.

In the House, Republicans have used parliamentary procedures to force time-consuming votes on the appropriations legislation. House Democratic leaders, seeking to move their agenda along, have responded by limiting the number of amendments that can be considered on the House floor.

Michael Steel, spokesman for House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), said that if Democrats keep spending and borrowing money, "you can bet Republicans will continue to hold them accountable."