House Democrats suspend spending bills
WASHINGTON (AP) â€” Sidestepping battles with Republicans over offshore oil drilling and pork barrel projects, Democrats controlling the House have called a halt to efforts to pass the 12 annual bills that fund Cabinet agency budgets.
The House is typically busy during the month of July as lawmakers debate and vote on the annual spending bills. Late nights are common and dozens of votes on amendments are called. There's more than a little institutional pride at stake as the House plugs away with its work, fulfilling its traditional responsibility to initiate spending bills.
But Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey, D-Wis. â€” blindsided last month by a GOP effort to transform a bill funding education and health care into a vehicle to permit additional offshore oil drilling â€” has suspended his panel's work on spending bills for the budget year beginning Oct. 1.
In the wake of the imbroglio, House leaders have failed to schedule debate on a single appropriations bill, including politically popular measures funding veterans and homeland security programs.
Obey says Republicans simply want to drag out the annual appropriations debates for political ends and that he won't be a pawn in such a game. But with President Bush promising veto after veto of the Democratic bills â€” and Senate action unlikely for most of them as well â€” there's little enthusiasm among either rank and file Democrats or their leaders to pass all the bills.
Then there is the question of additional offshore oil exploration, which sparked the battle and is a huge issue with voters, who are rallying behind the idea in public opinion surveys. Democratic leaders have blocked GOP efforts to force a vote to end the blanket prohibition on energy development of over 80 percent of the country's offshore waters.
Under ordinary circumstances, Republicans could use the Interior Department budget bill to lift the restrictions on offshore oil exploration. Obey postponed plans for a committee vote on the Interior measure last month after Republicans unveiled a measure by Rep. John Peterson, R-Pa., to open waters 50 miles offshore to oil companies.
The delay by Obey was followed by a remarkable move by top Appropriations Committee Republican Jerry Lewis of California, a longtime colleague of Obey on the powerful panel but one who has a strained relationship with him...
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