Democrats, freed from former President George W. Bush’s veto threats, are gutting the previous administration’s programs with funding cuts and policy changes in the omnibus spending bill that the House passed Wednesday.
From including language to “consider” government health care benefits for same-sex domestic partners of federal workers to eliminating D.C. school vouchers, which they consider an affront to the public school system, Democrats say there are plenty of wrongs to right in Mr. Bush’s wake.
The pork-laden bill also slashes funds for abstinence education and erases language prohibiting a “fairness doctrine” law that threatens to squelch conservative talk radio.
“There’s a lot of damage to repair … and I’m dying to get it done,” said Rep. Louise M. Slaughter, New York Democrat and chairman of the House Rules Committee. “We’re trying to get back in the 21st century here.”
House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank, Massachusetts Democrat, said the omnibus was merely a first step. He said the spending bill would be followed soon by expanded funding for stem-cell research and a hate crimes law.
“You’ll see more of it … where our winning will make change for the better,” Mr. Frank said. “That’s what happens when you have an election and one side wins and the other side loses.”
The House passed the $410 billion omnibus bill, which funds most of the government for the remainder of the fiscal year that ends Sept. 30, in a near party-line 245-178 vote, with 16 Republicans crossing party lines to support the spending package and 16 Democrats breaking ranks to vote against it.
The legislation now goes to the Senate, where fierce debate is expected next week. Republicans object to the bill’s high price tag, redundant spending on programs funded by the $787 billion economic stimulus and more than 9,000 pet projects worth $12.8 billion that members of both parties tacked onto the bill.
Despite President Obama´s oft-stated distaste for earmark pork and the ways of Washington, the White House said it will not take a stand against the projects because the legislation originated under the previous administration and therefore represents the final Bush budget bill.
Still, the omnibus rolls back more than a dozen Republican priorities as it implants the stamp of Mr. Obama and the Democrat-led Congress on government. It boosts spending for family planning in foreign countries without the Bush administration “Mexico City policy,” which prohibited funds from going to organizations that perform or promote abortions. Those funds increased by $88 million over past year to $545 million.
Mr. Obama already has signed a series of executive orders to overturn Bush polices, from regulations that restricted labor unions to rules governing the detention and treatment of suspected terrorists.
Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana, chairman of the House Republican Conference, said the bill “wages war on many of the most cherished policies of social conservatives of the past quarter century.”
He said he was not surprised that Democrats are relishing the moment.
“It reflects their liberal social agenda. I don’t know how happy the American people will be,” he said. “They will be deeply disappointed how quickly one-party liberal government has departed from their values.”
The omnibus reduces by nearly half the spending on Mr. Bush’s signature foreign aid program, the Millennium Challenge Corp., halts a pilot program allowing Mexican trucks into the U.S. for cross-border commerce, and weakens travel restrictions to Cuba.