The House and Senate had passed different versions of H.R. 2918, the bill providing fiscal year 2010 funding for Congress. When the two Houses of Congress have passed different versions of the same bill, a final version is typically negotiated in a conference between a limited number of members of both bodies, and a conference report is developed. That conference report must then be passed by both Houses before it can be sent to the president to be signed into law. This was a vote on the resolution or “rule’ setting the terms for the House debate of the conference report on H.R. 2918.
The conference report for H.R. 2918 also contained a “continuing resolution”, which provided authority to keep all departments and agencies of the federal government operating for six weeks into the 2010 fiscal year essentially at their 2009 fiscal year levels. There were some additional funds added to the 2009 levels for veterans benefits and other purposes.
The conference report for H.R. 2918 was being considered five days before the beginning of the 2010 fiscal year and no spending bill for the new fiscal year had yet been approved by Congress. Rep. McGovern (D-MA), who was leading the support for the rule for the measure, said this was because the Senate had been slow in approving new fiscal year 2010 spending bills, and the authority to continue spending “is necessary to ensure that vital programs continue to receive funding.”
Much of the debate on the resolution focused on the authority it gave to keep the government operating into fiscal year 2010. Rep. McGovern acknowledged that “none of us on either side of the aisle are happy with continuing resolutions. They have been used for years under Democratic and Republican majorities, but they are clearly not ideal.”
Rep. Dreier (R-CA) was leading the Republican opposition to the rule. He argued that the Democratic majority was “scrambling . . . to buy more time to get our work done with the continuing resolution . . . .” Dreier repeated the complaint the Republican minority had been making against this and other rules that spending bills were being debated under terms that limited the number of amendments and points of order that Members could offer. The Democrats had consistently responded by arguing that this limitation was necessary in order to complete 2010 spending bills before the start of the 2010 fiscal year.
Dreier said that “continuing resolutions are not unusual, and we recognize that on this side of the aisle . . . What's different is the fact that the Democratic majority shut down debate on our appropriations bills, ostensibly for the sake of completing our spending bills on time . . . They said that there was no time for debate and deliberation while the clock was ticking . . . Now . . . it would appear that the rights of Democrats and Republicans have been trampled on for the sake of a goal that has not come close to being achieved.”
Rep. McGovern responded by saying that “when the Republicans were in charge here, continuing resolutions were a regular part of the process . . . they got nothing done and dumped all of their appropriations work on the incoming Democratic Congress . . . the bill before us . . . is important and it needs to be passed.”
The resolution passed by a vote of 209-189. Two hundred and eight Democrats and one Republican voted “aye”. One hundred and sixty-four Republicans and twenty-five Democrats voted “nay” As a result, the House was able to begin formally debating the conference report containing the 2010 funding bill for the Congress, and the continuing resolution that would keep the executive branch of the government operating into the early part of fiscal year 2010.