WASHINGTON -- Congress last week bought itself more time to determine how much money to spend on government next year by keeping most departments running until Dec. 18 at this year's spending levels.
Largely preoccupied with health care and other matters, lawmakers have passed just five of the 12 bills that set spending for federal departments in fiscal 2010, which began Oct. 1.
The agencies whose spending bills have not been completed, including the Commerce, Justice, Defense and Labor departments, will be funded at 2009 levels until the new deadline.
A few programs, such as veterans health care, can spend more.
It is not unusual for Congress to miss the Oct. 1 deadline for finishing its spending bills. As individual bills were debated over the summer, Republicans in the House complained they were being blocked from offering dozens of amendments while Democrats complained that Republicans were slowing the drive to get legislation passed in a timely manner.
The so-called "continuing resolution" was attached to a bill that appropriated $32.3 billion for programs run by the Interior Department and the Environmental Protection Agency. That amount is a 17 percent increase, which drew criticism from some Republicans as being overly generous.
Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Wash., chairman of the Interior subcommittee, said increases were necessary because many of the environmental programs in the bill were starved for funding during the Bush administration.
The Interior and EPA spending bill passed the House 247-178. Reps. Shelley Berkley and Dina Titus, both D-Nev., voted for the bill. Rep. Dean Heller, R-Nev., voted against it.
The bill passed the Senate by a 72-28 vote. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., voted for it. Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., voted against it.
Contact Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at firstname.lastname@example.org or 202-783-1760.