House prepares for spending vote amid heavy GOP attacks

The $4.7 billion legislative-branch appropriations bill, one of the smallest of the annual spending measures, is packaged with a continuing resolution allowing the government to operate into the next fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1. The resolution is needed because none of the 2010 spending bills have been signed into law.

Also attached is a provision allowing the Postal Service to defer a $4 billion payment into its fund for future retirees’ health benefits. The move would help the Postal Service make up a $5.4 billion cash shortfall this year.

The Democrats’ decision to combine the government-wide stopgap spending measure with a relatively small appropriations bill is drawing fire from House Republicans frustrated by this year's appropriations process.

Democrats said that those measures will keep the government running, and that combining them is the easiest way to do so.

Rep. Jerry Lewis (Calif.), the top House GOP appropriator, said that House Democrats will “destroy the appropriations process as we know it.”

He and other Republicans protested that they won’t have an opportunity to amend the continuing resolution due to parliamentary rules that restrict motions on the resolution when it is combined with other legislation.

Democratic leaders plan to approve the combined measure for the president’s signature next week. The Senate will likely vote on the package before Oct. 1, which is the first day of the 2010 fiscal year.

Lewis noted that Democrats have limited GOP floor amendments to spending bills throughout the 2010 appropriations process. And he criticized the inclusion of the Postal Service budget move as a “$4 billion earmark.”

Lewis suggested that Democrats are trying to force Republicans to vote for either a package they don’t like or a government shut-down, which would result if the measure doesn't pass.

“This has got to be one of the most cynical legislative maneuvers I've ever seen,” Lewis said.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.) noted that Republicans, when they controlled Congress, had passed a continuing resolution in 2006 by combining it with a Defense spending bill. The measure received overwhelming support in the House and Senate.

“I didn't hear about procedural problems then, because there was none,” Obey said.

Democrats also noted that standalone legislation allowing the Postal Service to defer future health-benefits payments was sponsored by former GOP Rep. John McHugh (N.Y.) and passed the House with bipartisan support earlier this month.

The continuing resolution also includes a provision barring any government funds for ACORN, the community organizing group that has been under fire. Obey said the same provision will be included in the spending bills for the rest of 2010.