What: All Issues : Justice for All: Civil and Criminal : Gun Control : H.R. 2673. Fiscal 2004 Omnibus Appropriations/Vote to End Debate and Allow a Final Vote on Omnibus Spending Legislation to Fund the Operation of Government in 2004. (2004 senate Roll Call 2)
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H.R. 2673. Fiscal 2004 Omnibus Appropriations/Vote to End Debate and Allow a Final Vote on Omnibus Spending Legislation to Fund the Operation of Government in 2004.
senate Roll Call 2     Jan 22, 2004
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Each year, Congress must pass and the president must sign into law thirteen appropriations bills either separately or in the form of an omnibus bill in order to fund the operation of government. If all thirteen spending bills are not adopted by October 1 (the end of the fiscal year) and Congress fails to extend funding directives through so-called "continuing resolutions", then the areas of government which failed to receive funding for the upcoming year shut down, a situation which occurred in 1995 when the Republican-controlled Congress and President Clinton failed to come to agreement on spending issues (continuing resolutions fund the operation of government, usually at the previous year's levels, until agreement can be reached on future spending commitments). Omnibus appropriations bills, which have increased in usage in recent years, bundle two or more of the thirteen individual appropriations bills into a single measure. Given their often enormous size and complexity, lawmakers readily admit that omnibus bills are not the ideal vehicle for debating specific budgetary or policy issues. Nonetheless, if Congress appears unable to complete action on all thirteen spending bills by the end of the congressional session, then congressional leaders often rely on the omnibus method in order to expedite passage of those bills. The omnibus approach to budget policy-making advantages the majority party because lawmakers are generally less willing to oppose an omnibus bill based on specific policy or funding objections. Omnibus legislation, in other words, raises the stakes of budgetary policy-making (witness the public outcry in 1995 after the partial government shutdown). In 2003, Congress was unable to complete action on an omnibus appropriations bill and continuing resolutions were adopted to finance the operation of government into the next fiscal year. When the second session of the 108th Congress convened in January 2004, the first item on the Senate's agenda was to complete action on the omnibus spending bill to fund government operations in 2004. The subject of this vote was a second effort-and this time a successful one-by Majority Leader Frist (R-TN) to invoke cloture on the $820 billion omnibus package, a bill which bundled seven uncompleted appropriations bills from 2003 into one enormous spending package (if successfully invoked with the required sixty-vote majority, a cloture motion ends debate and schedules a time for a final vote on the underlying piece of legislation). Specifically, the omnibus bill included spending directives for the Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Education, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Justice, Labor, State, Transportation, Treasury, and Veterans Affairs (more than seven federal departments are listed here because some appropriations bills, such as the Transportation and Treasury Department appropriations bill, include funding for more than one department). Progressives voted against cloture based on a host of concerns they had with the legislation. Progressives objected to what they described as: 1) the failure of Republicans to extend unemployment benefits to the millions of out-of-work Americans; 2) the inclusion of administration-supported rules to deny overtime pay to eight million white-collar workers; 3) provisions to allow greater media concentration; 4) language to require the FBI to destroy all records of gun sales within 24 hours to prevent meaning audits of the system of instant criminal background checks; and 5) the elimination of funding to allow the U.S. Department of Agriculture to enforce rules which prohibit the sale of "downed" animal meat to humans (meat from "downed" animals-animals that, often because of sickness, cannot walk or stand-has been linked to outbreaks of E. coli, mad cow disease, and other deadly food-borne pathogens). Conservatives voted in favor of cloture and argued that while the omnibus bill was by no means perfect, the Senate nonetheless needed to put partisan differences aside and move forward to adopt the spending package to insure that government agencies and programs received the money needed to continue to deliver services to the American people. The previous effort to invoke cloture-Senate vote 1-failed to attract the necessary sixty-vote majority required for passage in large part because Democrats united against it. After two days of political maneuvering, Majority Leader Frist and his allies were able to garner support from sixteen Democrats and the second cloture motion was narrowly adopted on a 61-32 vote, thereby paving the way for final passage of the omnibus spending bill. (It should be noted that press accounts attribute the shift among Democrats on the cloture votes to politics rather than substantive policy concessions by the majority party; Democrats did not want to be responsible for failing to fund the operation of government.)

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