The House voted 244-188 Wednesday evening to pass the economic stimulus package, setting up a Senate vote in the coming days.
The $819 billion bill, HR 1, includes $523 billion in spending and $275 billion in tax cuts, which Democrats said will spur economic growth and create American jobs.
The House approved six amendments to the bill, several of which affect federal employees:
- The bill now includes a provision strengthening whistleblower protections for federal employees, which had been missing from the original bill. The bill specified protections for state and local workers but did not mention federal employees. The whistleblower protections come from the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act, which passed the House, but not the Senate, in the last Congress. The amendment was introduced by Reps. Todd Platts, R-Pa., and Chris Van Hollen, D-Md.
- A requirement that the Department of Homeland Security purchase American-made uniforms for employees. Sponsor Rep. Larry Kissel, D-N.C., a former textile worker, said on the floor this provision would bolster local manufacturing.
- A requirement that recovery.gov contain links and information on jobs created at or by entities receiving stimulus funding, including links to local employment agencies, state and local public agencies, and private contractors who have received stimulus-funded contracts. Offered by Rep. Harry Teague, D-N.M.
- Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman James Oberstar, D-Minn., introduced a â€œuse it or lose itâ€ provision requiring that 50 percent of the funds for highway, aviation, transit and rail projects be obligated within 90 days.
- Highway maintenance money in the stimulus bill canâ€™t replace existing state funding, introduced by Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa. Thatâ€™s to make sure the stimulus money creates new jobs and spending instead of merely replacing planned spending.
- The bill now includes an additional $3 billion for transit spending, thanks to an amendment by Rep. Jarrold Nadler, D-N.Y. Total transit spending in the bill is now $12 billion.
Republicans were markedly less enthusiastic about the stimulus bill, proposing a substitute amendment focused on tax cuts equaling $487.7 billion over 10 years. The substitute amendment, which would have included a repeal of the 3 percent tax withholding requirement for federal contractors, would have been a more effective means of reviving the economy, Rep. Mike Pence said earlier Wednesday.
That measure failed 170-266 with even a few Republicans voting no.
Ethics seemed in short supply at the Interior Department’s Minerals Management Service last year; we reported on revelations of illicit sex with oil company executives, major conflicts of interest, and concerns that the agency’s royalty program wasn’t getting the best value for taxpayers.
To that end: President Obama’s new Secretary of the Interior, Ken Salazar, will visit the agency’s Colorado offices tomorrow and announce the first steps in his ethics reform plan. He’s holding a press conference after his meeting with MMS employees; we’ll have more details tomorrow afternoon.
Salazar made a quick appearance at today’s White House briefing, and told reporters he might re-open investigations closed by the Bush administration. He didn’t provide any details.
A subcommittee of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committee is holding a hearing on the financial crisis and the Postal Service. (You can watch it live here.)Â Steve Losey is at the hearing, and he’ll have a longer story later, but I wanted to post a few important quotes; first, Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., said this in his opening statement:
We may well be faced with a situation later this year where the Postal Service asks Congress to raise its borrowing limit or provide direct financial assistance. Those are steps I don’t think we should take.
Put another way: The Postal Service may be running out of cash by year’s end.
Carper and Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, support giving the Postal Service a two-year break from funding its future retiree health benefits fund, one of its biggest expenditures.
And, as we first reported this morning, Postmaster General John Potter asked Congress to reduce the delivery requirement â€” from six days a week to five. That could mean an end to Saturday delivery for at least part of the year, or to other delivery days if they’re lighter than Saturday.
House Minority Leader John Boehner says good riddance to $200 million in funds for the National Mall initally included in the House economic stimulus bill.
That provision was cut during the House Rules Committee meeting yesterday, as was millions for contraceptives for low-income families. During a pen-and-pad session with reporters Wednesday morning, he said the ax needs to be taken to many more initiatives.
“That’s two steps in the right direction, but there’s still hundreds of millions in wasteful spending.”
Other projects he singled out as wasteful included $400 million for NASA to study climate change and about $650 million for coupons for households who need converter boxes for the digital television transition.
Boehner, R-Ohio, also said Republicans will introduce a substitute this afternoon consisting mainly of tax cuts. He later said it would be fair to speculate that such a provision won’t pass.
One controversial provision in the House economic stimulus package is already dead: $200 million for the National Mall.
National Park Service spokesman Jeffrey Olson told Federal Times’ Gregg Carlstrom the money would have been used to shore up the Tidal Basin wall near the Jefferson Memorial, which is sinking into the Basin.
But that won’t happen right now. The House Rules Committee met Tuesday evening to set rules for floor debate for HR 1, the stimulus package, and adopted the following provision: “4. strikes funding for the National Mall Revitalization Fund.” The rule is self-executing, which means it will automatically become part of the bill when the House approves rules Wednesday.
The House convened at 10 a.m. today and will take up the stimulus package shortly.
The House just kicked off three and a half hours of debate on an $825 billion economic stimulus package.
House Appropriations Chairman Rep. Dave Obey, D-Wis., said the current economic situation may be the close to what then-President Franklin Delano Roosevelt faced when he created the New Deal. Obey, who has been cautious about the impact of the stimulus, again said $825 billion may not be enough.
None of us can be sure of the success that will flow from this.”
He added that Congress must take measures to keep families from losing their homes, adding that more intervention in the financial markets may also be required.
The House Rules Committee is still meeting to set rules for floor debate for the stimulus bill, HR 1, and debates and possible votes will likely continue Wednesday.
We’ll have a longer story about federal modernization projects in the stimulus package in Monday’s issue of Federal Times. A quick preview, though, because I want to address the misinformation floating around about the $200 million earmarked for the National Mall.
The House version of the stimulus includes about $2 billion for national parks, and yes, $200 million is for the Mall. But that money isn’t all for new grass on the Mall, as some critics are suggesting. That’s a ridiculous sum (even by the government’s occasionally wasteful standards).
Where is the money going? National Park Service spokesman Jeffrey Olson told me this:
The biggest part is the wall at the Tidal Basin [by the Jefferson Memorial]. That’s the major project… we need to stop it from dropping into the tidal basin. You’re not able to walk all the way around the basin, on the wall. The wall is literally sinking into the water.
I’m not an architect, but this seems dangerous, no? A pedestrian walkway sinking into the water near a major monument? $200 million price tag or not, it’s probably a good idea to fix it. (The memorial itself is solid, Olson says.)
Senate Judiciary Committee ranking member Sen. Arlen Specter said Tuesday afternoon he’ll vote for attorney general-designate Eric Holder when the committee meets Wednesday to consider his nomination.
Specter initially objected to the quick scheduling of Holder’s confirmation just weeks after his appointment by President Barack Obama, saying it did not leave enough time to investigate Holder’s background, including his involvement in the pardon of Marc Rich and his decision not to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate then-Vice President Al Gore’s fund-raising activities for the 1996 presidential campaign.
Specter, R-Penn., said Tuesday that Holder has “excellent qualifications” and provided answers to his “very serious questions” regarding Rich and the fund-raising investigation during a private meeting last Thursday.
It is necessary to ask pointed questions of all nominees. Unlike other Cabinet officials, the attorney general does more than carry out the president’s policies. The attorney general has an independent duty to the American people to uphold the rule of law.”
Specter’s affirmative vote for Holder removes one of the major obstacles to Holder’s confirmation, and the Senate Judiciary Commitee will vote on Holder’s nomination at 10 a.m. Wednesday. Should the committee approve Holder’s nomination, as is now expected, the full Senate could vote on his confirmation later Wednesday afternoon.
Senate appropriators voted 21-9 along party lines today to send the proposed economic stimulus bill to the Senate floor, setting it up for a possible vote by the end of the week.
Senate Appropriations Chairman Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, entertained little discussion on amendments, telling senators to propose their amendments once the bill reaches the Senate floor.
Most of the Republicans voting yes on the $365 billion proposal said they did so only to further debate and adhere to committee rules, not to endorse the components of the stimulus. Only Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, voted without adding an explanation to her vote. That means the bill may meet with significant resistance from Republicans in both the House and Senate unless changes to the current proposed bill are made.
A Senate Appropriations staffer said a copy of the proposed bill will be up on the committee’s Web site Wednesday.
Snow is closing schools and causing fender bendersÂ around the Washington area. But if you’re a federal employee hoping for permission to go home early and get started on that snowman, it’s not looking likely.
The Office of Personnel Management just told Federal Times that the weather isn’t prompting the government to make any major scheduling changes. But keep reading, andÂ we’ll update you as soon as we hear anything new.
And please drive safely tonight and tomorrow morning — we’re now expected to get one to three inches of snow today, another inch or two tonight, and possibly sleet and freezing rain. Not quite the snowmageddon some had expected, but it’s enough to make commutes nasty.
UPDATE: Some agencies, however, are making minor adjustments to their schedules. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission, for example, has postponed a safety and security workshop that was scheduled for tomorrow. The workshop will now be Feb. 3.
If you know of any scheduling changes atÂ your agency due to the weather, e-mail me at email@example.com and I’ll post them.