This was a vote on whether to recommit (send back) to the Appropriations Committee a bill to provide funds that would keep the federal government operating for a short period in fiscal year 2009, pending Congressional approval of a longer-term funding bill. The Congress and the Bush Administration had never reached an agreement about funding levels for the 2009 fiscal year, which began on October 1, 2008. The government was funded after September 30, 2008 with a series of resolutions that kept departments operating at their levels for the previous fiscal year. The House was scheduled to complete its work on a major funding bill that covered most of fiscal year 2009. The resolution that the motion would recommit was designed to allow the government to keep operating until the longer-term 2009 appropriations bill was passed and became law. A motion to recommit is a procedural tactic to delay or modify legislation.
Rep. Obey (D-WI), the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, opposed the motion and explained that the resolution “simply keeps the government open . . . .” The Republican minority used the debate on the motion to recommit as an opportunity to criticize both the spending levels in the pending longer-term 2009 funding bill and the manner in which the Democrats had managed that legislation.
Rep. Lewis (R-CA), the Ranking Republican on the House Appropriations Committee, claimed that the delay in passing 2009 appropriations was caused by the House Democratic leadership, which had not permitted the members of the committee to participate in the process. Lewis argued: “Whether you are a Republican or a Democrat, liberal or conservative, your rights as a duly elected Member of this body have been belittled by a majority leadership that believes absolute power flows from the top . . . each of us recognizes that extending a Congressional Resolution one more time is an admission of our failure to complete our work on time . . . this is simply doing our work in the worst possible way.”
Lewis then focused on the substance of the longer- term 2009 appropriations bill, noted that it increased federal spending by 8% over 2008, and said:”This represents the largest annual Federal Government spending increase since President Carter served in 1978 . . . Wall Street, auto makers, and the line of folks with their hands out continue to grow.” Rep Boehner, the House Minority Leader, supported Lewis’ remarks by suggesting that spending for fiscal year 2009 should be frozen at 2008 levels. Rep. Dreier (R-CA), echoing what had been the primary Republican argument against the major funding bill, said that what the economy needed was a series of tax reductions, not “massive increases in spending”.
Rep. Obey first responded to the Republicans by suggesting that they were advocating the same kinds of policies Herbert Hoover adopted during The Great Depression. He went on to say: “I find it strange to be lectured by folks . . .who did such a ‘brilliant’ job of running this institution and in running this economy and in running this country for the last 8 years. I find it interesting to be lectured on fiscal responsibility by people who borrowed $1.2 trillion in order to pay for tax cuts, primarily for the wealthiest people in this country, all on borrowed money.”
Obey then said that the pending longer-term fiscal year 2009 funding bill has “a lot of money until you compare it to the $200 billion that this economy has already lost because of its shrinkage just in the last 3 months of last year, and . . . the $200 billion more that we expect to have seen the economy shrink by in the first 3 months of this year. . . .” Obey concluded that: “In the end, the passage of this resolution is necessary in order to keep the government open.”
The motion to recommit failed by a vote of 160-218. One hundred and fifty-two Republicans and eight Democrats votes “aye”. All 218 “nay” votes were cast by Democrats. As a result, the House was able to move to an immediate vote on final passage of the funding resolution to keep the government operating.