Full legislative agenda on our plates
By By Jo Bonner
Now that the July 4th district work period has come to an end, Congress has returned to Washington and is focused on accomplishing several major objectives.
We certainly don't have much time to waste on working through what is shaping up to be an ambitious legislative agenda, primarily because the month-long August district period is just a few short weeks away.
Undoubtedly the biggest task before us is the consideration and passage of the 13 annual appropriations bills. The appropriations bills are the measures whereby the federal government and all of its agencies and programs are funded for the upcoming fiscal year. Obviously, we are all anxious to complete our work on these bills and start the fiscal year on time and on a positive note.
Just a few weeks ago, I discussed passage of the first Homeland Security appropriations bill. Over the past several days, the House completed work on its next two spending bills, for the Department of Defense and funding for the Departments of Labor and Health and Human Services.
Increase in defense funding
Recognizing the continuing need for a well-equipped, well-trained and well-funded military, the defense appropriations bill was approved by a vote of 399-19.
The measure provides a total of $368.7 billion in new discretionary spending for the Department of Defense for FY 2004, an increase of $4.3 billion over the amount approved in last year's bill.
As Representative Tom DeLay, the House majority leader, stated, "There's a lot of hard and dangerous work left to be done in the War on Terror but our troops and our president are ready to do it."
I personally feel the House has done a tremendous job of providing the military and defense agencies with the funding necessary to get the job done. Among other items, the bill includes:
-$98.3 billion for military personnel;
-$4.6 billion for special operations forces;
-$11.5 billion for shipbuilding programs;
-$15.6 for defense health programs;
-$74.7 billion for procurement;
-$115.3 billion for operation and maintenance and
-$1.7 billion for chemical and biological defense initiatives.
As we've all seen in recent years, the style of war has changed. The United States can certainly still boast the best trained and best equipped military in the world, as evidenced primarily by its recent successes in Afghanistan and Iraq.
However, warfare is no longer necessarily fought against enemies we can see on the open seas or on the battlefield. Today's threats to peace and stability are in many instances spread out over several countries and operate in the dark, as in the case of the al Qaeda terrorist organization.
It is important that our military be prepared for these new challenges and threats, and I think the appropriations bill passed by the House will play a significant role in helping our troops meet these challenges.
Other work still remains
While passage of the Homeland Security and Defense appropriations bills certainly marks a significant step towards completion of our legislative calendar, there is still a great deal of work to be done.
As of this writing, it is anticipated that a majority of the 10 remaining appropriations bills will be voted on by the full House prior to August 1.
Recently, Speaker of the House J. Dennis Hastert publicly stated his goal of having work on all 13 appropriations bills completed by the August district work period.
Keep in mind that last year, these bills were not completed by the end of the calendar year, much less the fiscal year. As a result, all of the spending measures were rolled into one comprehensive omnibus bill.
Differences will surely exist among many different members of the House over this legislation, and it will take considerable work on both sides of the aisle to reach a successful consensus.