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On Monday, President Bush released his 2004 fiscal budget. The $2.24 trillion spending proposal aims to increase government spending by 4 percent from 2003 levels. Already, lawmakers are squawking about the price tag. Some Republicans are calling the 4 percent increase a little too generous, while Democrats are complaining about probable tax cuts and certain deficits. Budget Committees from both chambers have conducted hearings. R. Glenn Hubbard, Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors, and Treasury Secretary John Snow have made the rounds on Capitol Hill to advance the President’s tax-cut proposal and defect criticisms.
Since October 1, 2002, the federal government has been running on continuing resolutions (CR) because legislators have not passed the remaining 11 appropriations bills. The House is set to pass the 8th CR today to keep the government operating at 2002 levels until February 14.
House and Senate appropriations conferees hope to reach a settlement on the omnibus bill by Monday. Each chamber will still have to vote on the final report. House leaders hope to have that vote on Wednesday, while the Senate plans to vote on Thursday.
However, the White House has threatened to veto the conference report. The President’s advisors are steadfastly sticking to the President’s prescribed $390 billion outline and have stated that if the conference report deviates from this amount, they will advise the President to veto it.
Presidential advisors have singled-out problematic components within the omnibus bill, that if included, may very will scuttle the whole affair. The President disagrees with the Senate’s $1.2 billion appropriation for Amtrak. The White House prefers that the omnibus include the House’s appropriation level, $762 million. Moreover, the $31.8 billion for highway funding is too generous say advisors. Finally, if the omnibus bill includes language that would lift sanctions on Cuba – as is currently the case – a veto is certain. It remains to be seen if appropriations conferees are able to overcome these hurdles.
Last week, the Senate Judiciary Committee favorably passed out Miguel Estrada, President Bush’s nominee for the DC Circuit Court of Appeals. The 10-9 vote highlights the acrimonious climate that many of the President’s nominees face. Estrada moves to the full Senate for debate and confirmation. The divisions are so deep that Senate Democrats have threatened to filibuster Estrada on the Senate floor. It remains to be seen if they carry out their threat.
Meanwhile, Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-UT) has set hearings for more nominees. Jay S. Bybee Circuit Court nominee for the Ninth Circuit, and Ralph Erickson for the North Dakota District, William Quarles for the Maryland District, and Gregory Frost for Ohio’s southern district (all nominees for district judgeships) are up for hearings on February 5. On February 6, the committee will vote to pass out of committee Deborah Cook, John Roberts, and Jeffrey Sutton.
Welfare reform will soon be up for a vote on the House floor. The House leadership has decided to bypass the committee responsible for review and markup. The House legislation would reauthorize funding for the 1996 welfare reform bill also known as the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families. The bill would require states to have 70 percent of their welfare recipients working at least 40 hours per week by 2008. The House passed a nearly identical bill last year, but it died in the Senate. Then Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) had tried to introduce legislation that would have weakened work requirement provisions. It remains to be seen if Chairman Grassley moves legislation similar to the House bill.
Economic Growth and Jobs Creation
House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Thomas (R-CA) stated yesterday that he plans on moving the President’s economic growth and jobs creation package through his committee later this month. Thomas hopes to have a bill on the House floor by March. It should be noted though, that if legislators want a bill enacted that resembles the President’s plan, that bill would have to be passed under reconciliation. For this to occur, both chambers must agree to a budget resolution. If the tax bill passes out of the House before a budget resolution is agreed to, the bill would need 60 votes in the Senate – a near impossibility. Essentially, Thomas is fast-forwarding the entire process to get the ball moving on the President’s plan and the budget process.