This was on the resolution setting the terms for debating the conference report containing the House-Senate agreement on the final version of the bill providing fiscal year 2010 funding for the Department of the Interior and for environmental agencies. The House and Senate had passed different versions of the bill providing fiscal year 2010 funding for the Department of the Interior and for environmental agencies. When the two Houses of Congress pass different versions of the same bill, a final version is typically negotiated in a conference between a limited number of representatives of both bodies. Most conference reports, like most bills, require the approval of a resolution or “rule” setting the terms for their debate, before they can be considered by the House.
The conference report contained a “continuing resolution”, in addition to providing funding for the Interior Department. That “continuing resolution” provided the authority to keep all other departments and agencies of the federal government operating for two additional months into the 2010 fiscal year essentially at their 2009 fiscal year levels. The conference report for this funding bill was being considered early into the 2010 fiscal year, and the spending bills for most federal departments had not yet been approved by Congress and signed into law by the President. Congress had previously passed a “continuing resolution” for the early portion of the fiscal year 2010, but it was about to expire.
The Republican minority expressed concern that a continuing resolution was needed. They focused on the fact that the Democratic majority had limited the number of amendments that were allowed to be offered on the other 2010 funding bills, using the argument that Congress needed to maintain a rapid schedule that would allow spending bills to be enacted by the deadline date of the beginning of the 2010 fiscal year. In recent years, many spending bills had not been enacted by the beginning of the fiscal years to which they applied. The Republicans had objected to those limitations on amendments when the other spending bills were considered.
Rep. Hastings (D-FL) was leading the support for the rule setting the terms for debating the conference report. He asserted that “the conference report makes available the necessary resources for the federal government to protect our nation's precious natural resources. It also (ensures) clean and safe drinking water . . . and (helps) Native- American communities meet their needs. It will help communities and public lands by focusing on . . . water infrastructure and environmental protection; fire fighting and fuels reduction on Federal land; bolstering our public land management agencies; protecting public lands through the Land and Water Conservation Fund; and helping the most vulnerable Native American populations. Together, these priorities and their attendant policies provide for effective federal stewardship of our environmental and cultural treasures . . . . “
Referring to the inclusion of the continuing resolution in the conference report, Hastings said that it was necessary because the Senate needed “more time to complete their work (on other 2010 fiscal year funding bills).”
Rep. Dreier (R-CA) was leading the opposition to the rule. He focused his opposition largely on the inclusion of the continuing resolution in the conference report. Dreier first acknowledged that: “Congress has frequently, under both political parties, taken the action of having a continuing resolution . . . .” However, he then added: “What is unprecedented (in this instance) is the fact that an open debate of the federal budget was completely abandoned for a deadline that has proven to be utterly meaningless . . . we had that inviolable, September 30, end of the fiscal year deadline we had to meet, and here we sit, approaching the 1st of November, and we've completed (only) one-third of our appropriations work . . . because the (Senate) Democratic supermajority (of 60 votes) still can't get the work done.
Rep. Hastings responded by saying that senators, “regardless of their party, take a great deal of time . . . (T)hat's why the process has slowed down . . . because of . . . their rules, their regulations, arcane though they may be, which make it difficult for us to do our business.”
The rule was approved by a vote of 232-184. All two hundred and thirty-two “aye” votes were cast by Democrats. Fifteen other Democrats joined all one hundred and sixty-nine Republicans and voted “nay”. As a result, the House was able to begin debating the final version of the bill providing fiscal year 2010 funding for the Interior Department, which included a continuing resolution that funded the other federal departments and agencies through mid-December of 2010.