Omnibus bill awaits Congress

News AASHTO Journal January 06, 2004
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The 108th Congress will convene its second session on Jan

The 108th Congress will convene its second session on Jan. 20 with an attempt to enact an omnibus appropriations bill affecting seven of the 13 major federal agencies, including transportation.

Lawmakers will actually have 11 days to complete action on the conference report for H.R. 2673. The conference report cleared the House by a vote of 242-176 on Dec. 8, but when it became clear the Senate would not pass the measure without debate under a unanimous consent agreement, Senate Majority Leader William Frist (R-Tenn.) postponed action until after the holiday recess. A cloture vote has been scheduled on Jan. 20, which would halt any filibuster and bring the measure to the floor for action.

Most observers predict that the Senate Republicans have rallied sufficient votes to invoke cloture on Jan. 20 and then approve the conference agreement later that week. But others are still uncertain. The bill faces opposition on several grounds. Conservatives object to the fact that the bill exceeds the figure called for in the FY 2004 budget resolution, possibly subjecting it to a point of order if any senator decided to raise the matter.

Democrats complain that they were largely excluded from the negotiations on the omnibus measure, and members of both parties have been angered by action to include concessions to the White House that run contrary to action taken by the Congress.

If the Senate does not clear the conference agreement, the $820 billion funding bill would probably then go back to negotiations between the House and Senate leaders and the Administration. Observers believe it is unlikely that the Congress will attempt to pass separate bills. Reopening the bill to further negotiations could mean reductions in transportation funding. The conference report already imposes a 0.59% across-the-board cut in all non-defense spending, as well as rescission of some $1.8 billion in unspent apportionments.

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