Workweek Ends With Senate Passage of Three Spending Bills

Posted July 11, 2003 at 2:18pm

The Senate passed two fiscal 2004 appropriations bills and an emergency spending supplemental for this year on Friday, while the House passed a massive spending measure Thursday night before adjourning for the week.

The Senate dispensed with next year’s legislative branch outlay Friday morning while also attaching $2 billion in supplemental appropriations.

It was the second supplemental this fiscal year, which began Oct. 1, 2002. The measure provides disaster relief funding, money to combat Western wildfires and an allocation to investigate the space shuttle Columbia disaster.

The previous supplemental allocated almost $80 billion in extra spending to pay for the war in Iraq.

The Senate also approved the $9.2 billion military construction appropriations bill, which is $1.5 billion less than Congress allocated for the current fiscal year.

In a tight 215-208 vote Thursday, the House approved a measure to fund the Labor, Health and Human Services and Education departments, as well as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and various other agencies.

With just a three-vote margin, the House also decided to let the Labor Department’s changes to the nation’s overtime policy stand.

The White House has proposed making millions of low-wage workers eligible to receive time-and-a-half pay for extra hours worked, while denying some better-paid workers the same benefit.

Democrats had hoped to pass an amendment that would have added the low-wage earners to the overtime payroll while blocking the Labor Department from dropping the better-paid workers.

When the House returns Monday, it is set to consider the fiscal 2004 Agriculture appropriation. Tuesday and the rest of the week it will debate the State Department 2004 authorization measure, the Interior Department appropriation, Project Bioshield and the controversial School Readiness Act.

The bill’s Republican supporters say it will improve the popular Head Start program by giving states more flexibility and increasing its focus on education. Democrats charge that it will undermine the early-education program, which primarily serves minority children.

Meanwhile, the Senate is set to begin work on the fiscal 2004 Defense appropriations bill Monday. Then it will consider the Labor-HHS measure and amendments to the Homeland Security appropriations bill.

Senate votes will begin after 5 p.m., House votes after 6:30.

Both chambers will suspend regular business to receive British Prime Minister Tony Blair in a joint session of Congress on Thursday.