Congress Recesses Without Passing Appropriations Bill; President Signs Medicare Bill
The Senate recessed for the holidays without voting on a spending bill that would authorize funding for many major federal programs and projects. The House, which had been delayed approving seven of the 13 appropriations bills that finance the federal government, consolidated all of the spending bills into one. As a result of the delay, the Senate was unable to reach a consensus before the holiday break.
As a result, the federal agencies covered by the appropriations bill, including the Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Education, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Justice, Labor, State, Transportation, Treasury, and Veterans Affairs, will operate at last year's budget levels for the first four months of 2004.
Some of the key issues holding up the bill's passage in the Senate included differences with the House regarding overtime rules, media ownership restrictions, a proposed voucher program for children in the District of Columbia, and proposals to permit release of gun owner records.
Congressional action on other fronts, however, has included bills on discrimination on the basis of genetic information, the Immigration and Nationality Act, amending Title XVIII of the Social Security Act, Medicare revisions, and a proposed amendment to the U. S. Constitution concerning marriage.
On Oct. 14, the Senate passed S 1053, a bill to prohibit discrimination on the basis of genetic information with respect to health insurance and employment.
On Nov. 25, the Senate passed S 460, the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program Reauthorization Act, which would amend the Immigration and Nationality Act to authorize appropriations for fiscal years 2004 through 2010. The bill was introduced in the House and referred to the Committee on the Judiciary.
On Dec. 8, President Bush signed into law HR 1, the "Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act of 2003," which amends Title XVIII of the Social Security Act to provide for, among other things, a voluntary prescription drug benefit under the Medicare program. It is the largest expansion of Medicare since the program was created in 1965.
Most of the provisions, such as the prescription drug benefit, will not take effect for several years. Subsidies provided for in the Act to help private insurers to compete with traditional Medicare which allows seniors to join managed-care plans, will not take effect until 2010. Proponents of the Act say that it will provide individuals with better choices and more control of their health care, while critics say that it does nothing to lessen the rising costs of prescription drugs.
On Nov. 25, Sen. Allard (R-CO) introduced SJ Res 26, a joint resolution proposing an amendment to the Constitution of the United States relating to marriage. The bill was referred to the Committee on the Judiciary. (At the ABA 2004 Midyear Meeting, the House of Delegates will consider a Section-sponsored proposal to oppose any federal enactment that would restrict a state's ability to prescribe the qualifications for civil marriage within its jurisdiction.)
Also on Nov. 25, Sen. Bingaman (D-NM) introduced S 1966, to require a report on the status of the detainees held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The bill was referred to the Committee on Armed Services.
On Nov. 21, Rep. Maloney (D-NY) introduced H Con Res 342, commending Iraqi women for their participation in Iraqi government and civil society, encouraging the inclusion of Iraqi women in the political and economic life of Iraq, and advocating the protection of Iraqi women's human rights in the Iraqi Constitution. The bill was referred to the Committee on International Relations.
On Nov. 21, Rep. Goodlatte (R-VA) introduced HR 3604, to simplify the process for admitting temporary alien agricultural workers under the Immigration and Nationality Act and to increase access to such workers. The bill was referred to the Committees on the Judiciary and on Agriculture.
On Nov. 19, Rep. Lantos (D-CA) introduced H Con Res 330, expressing the concern of Congress regarding human rights violations committed against lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, and transgendered individuals around the world based upon their real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. The bill was referred to the Committee on International Relations.
On Nov. 19, Rep. Barrett (R-SC) introduced HR 3522, to bar the admission and facilitate the removal of alien terrorists and their supporters and fundraisers; to secure U. S. borders against terrorists, drug traffickers, and other illegal aliens; to facilitate the removal of illegal aliens and aliens who are criminals or human rights abusers; to reduce visa, document, and employment fraud; to temporarily suspend processing of certain visas and immigration benefits; and to reform the legal immigration system. The bill was referred to the Committee on the Judiciary.
On Nov. 19, Rep. Tancredo (R-CO) introduced HR 3534, to enhance border enforcement, improve homeland security, remove incentives for illegal immigration, and establish a guest worker program. The bill was referred to the Committees on the Judiciary, Ways and Means, Government Reform, Education and the Workforce, and International Relations.
On Nov. 18, Rep. Ryan (R-KS) introduced H Res 446, expressing the sense of the House of Representatives that the U. S. Supreme Court should base its decisions on the Constitution and the laws of the United States, not on the law of any foreign country or any international law or agreement not made under the authority of the United States. The bill was referred to the Committee on the Judiciary.