In a February 1 Associated Press article on the passage of a $463.5 billion spending bill in the House of Representatives, staff writer Andrew Taylor reported that there were "hard feelings" among congressional Republicans "over how Democrats powered the bill through the House: just an hour of debate time, no amendments allowed." But the article ignored the reason why the stopgap measure was necessary: prior to the close of the 109th Congress in 2006, the Republican congressional majority decided not to deal with nine spending bills -- a fact that Taylor himself reported at the time and that Democrats repeatedly cited in response to Republican complaints about the budget process.
Following the Democratic victories in the 2006 midterm elections, congressional Republicans declined to pass the nine remaining government spending bills for fiscal year 2007 (which began on October 1, 2006), placing the burden on the incoming Democratic majority. In a November 20, 2006, AP article, Taylor himself covered this GOP decision:
Republicans vacating the Capitol are dumping a big spring cleaning job on Democrats moving in. GOP leaders have opted to leave behind almost a half-trillion-dollar clutter of unfinished spending bills[.]
There's also no guarantee that Republicans will pass a multibillion-dollar measure to prevent a cut in fees to doctors treating Medicare patients.
The bulging workload that a Republican-led Congress was supposed to complete this year but is instead punting to 2007 promises to consume time and energy that Democrats had hoped to devote to their own agenda upon taking control of Congress in January for the first time in a dozen years.
Taylor went on to note in that article that many Republicans believed the unfinished budget work would impede the Democratic agenda:
Driving the decision to quit and go home rather than finish the remaining budget work is a determined effort by a group of conservative Republicans to prevent putting a GOP stamp on spending bills covering 13 Cabinet Departments -- and loaded with thousands of homestate projects derided as "pork" by critics.
Some Republicans also look forward to using unfinished budget work to gum up an early Democratic agenda that includes raising the minimum wage, negotiating lower drug prices for Medicare beneficiaries, cutting interest rates on college loans and repealing some tax breaks for oil companies.
"Other stuff may get pushed off the table," said GOP lobbyist Hazen Marshall, a former longtime Capitol Hill aide. "It kills (Democrats') message."
On January 29, House Democrats introduced a continuing resolution appropriating $463.5 billion to keep the government running for the remainder of fiscal 2007. Without this measure, the lack of funding would have caused a partial government shutdown as soon as February 15. The Democratic leadership allowed an hour of debate on the measure and barred Republican amendments to it, causing an uproar from GOP lawmakers. Speaking on the House floor on January 31, House Appropriations Committee chairman David Obey (D-WI) responded to these complaints by noting that Republicans had themselves failed "to deal with the most basic responsibility of a legislative body, which is to pass the Federal budget":
OBEY: Let me simply say that the majority had 8 months to deal with the most basic responsibility of a legislative body, which is to pass the Federal budget. They were in the majority. They now are not. Now they are in the minority.
We are trying to clean up their spilt milk, and they can squawk all they want about how we did it. The fact is, there are no new issues here. Virtually every single issue that will be debated today was already debated when we passed the appropriation bills. These are the bills that the House passed last summer in the previous session of the Congress. We had hundreds of amendments to these bills.
OBEY: You may not like the choices we have made, but, in contrast to the last Congress which ducked its responsibility to make these choices, at least we have made the choices. At least we have made them, and we are going to vote on this today. We are going to send it to the Senate so that when the President submits his new budget on February 5, he has a clean slate and so do we, and that is the way it ought to be.
The continuing resolution subsequently passed the House by a vote of 286-140 on January 31. But in his February 1 AP article, Taylor reported the Republicans' complaints regarding the Democrats' handling of the bill, while failing to inform readers why the measure was necessary in the first place:
A must-pass bill covering about one-sixth of the federal budget swept through the House on Wednesday. A sizable chunk of Republicans joined virtually all Democrats in approving spending increases for education, veterans and the AIDS battle in Africa.
The 286-140 vote -- with 57 Republicans voting in favor -- was a pleasant surprise for Democrats who expected far less GOP support. The $463.5 billion spending bill had much to please the rank and file, including Republican moderates, even though it contained no pet projects for their districts.
"The content is a heck of a lot better than most expected we'd come up with," said the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, Rep. David Obey, D-Wis. He worked with his Senate counterpart, Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., to add money for initiatives popular with both Democrats and Republicans.
The winning vote would have been even higher had there not been such hard feelings over how Democrats powered the bill through the House: just an hour of debate time, no amendments allowed.
By contrast, on February 1, several other major print outlets pointed out that the Republicans had failed to pass the spending bills when they were in the majority.
From a Wall Street Journal article (subscription required):
House Democrats, in the strongest showing yet of their new legislative muscle, pushed through a $463.5 billion spending resolution to fill the gap left by the collapse of the budget process under Republican rule last fall.
With funding for the government running out Feb. 15, both parties and the White House are eager to resolve the fiscal crisis. But the new majority brought the bill to the floor with remarkable speed and no apologies to Republicans for denying them the chance to offer individual amendments.
"You forfeited any right to squawk about how we cleaned up your mess," said House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey (D., Wis.). "Somebody had to make the decisions, because you didn't."
From a New York Times article:
"Democrats promised this massive spending bill would be earmark-free, but then gave us a bill that includes hundreds of millions of dollars worth of funding for earmarked pork projects," said Representative John A. Boehner of Ohio, the Republican leader.
But Representative David R. Obey, the Wisconsin Democrat who is chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, blamed the Republicans for failing to complete the 2007 spending bills, and for allowing the insertion of earmarks like the Iowa rain forest in the first place.
From a Washington Post article:
The measure had to be cobbled together because Congress did not finish its work last year and failed to pass nine of 11 spending bills. "Four months into fiscal 2007, we are cleaning up the Republican Party's budget mess," House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) said during the floor debate.