Conference Report on H.R. 4818, Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2005

Date: Dec. 7, 2004
Location: Washington, DC

CONFERENCE REPORT ON H.R. 4818, CONSOLIDATED APPROPRIATIONS ACT, 2005 -- (Extensions of Remarks - December 07, 2004)

Mr. HOLT. Mr. Speaker, I rise in reluctant support of the conference report on H.R. 4818, the FY 2005 Omnibus Appropriations bill. Though there are many important and laudable provisions contained in this spending bill, I am troubled by other specific provisions and by the process that this bill has followed.

I am pleased that the bill provides an increase in funding for national security and counterintelligence operations at the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Unfortunately, this Congress has failed in its effort to pass comprehensive intelligence reform legislation, which would ensure that this money is being spent appropriately and that the efforts of our agencies are coordinated.

I am pleased to see that this conference report provides $1.3 billion for Education Impact Aid, $24 million more than last year. This program provides funding for military impacted schools such as those in the towns of Eatontown and Tinton Falls. I am also pleased that the bill includes $250 million for the community college initiative, which will fund workforce development partnerships between community colleges and employers.

Despite these provisions, we have more work to do to fully fund what should be a top priority for this Congress-education. One day after we passed the reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, IDEA, we underfunded aid to schools by $1.7 billion. Considering the rising cost of higher education, I am disappointed that the bill does not increase the maximum Pell Grant Award. We cannot keep the maximum Pell grant award at $4,050 and expect families to be able to afford college.

I am deeply troubled that this bill includes such a restrictive limitation on funding for a woman's constitutionally protected right of choice. Specifically, this bill prohibits use of funds to pay for health benefits coverage that includes coverage of abortion. It also protects health care providers who refuse to provide this needed service. Such measures are designed to limit women's rights, and have no business in this bill.

I am disappointed that the Community Oriented Policing Service, COPS, program has been cut by $142 million. Many of the towns in my district have received funding for police officers through this program, which has made our communities safer. It simply makes no sense to be taking cops off the street at a time when they are more needed than ever.

I am also troubled that this spending bill cuts the budget for the National Science Foundation, NSF, by $62 million from last year's inadequate appropriation. The work of the NSF provides the basic scientific underpinnings for the most advanced technological research and development in the world. We cannot hope to remain the world's most scientifically advanced nation if we continue to shortchange our researchers.

I am disturbed by the economic situation in which we find ourselves. Congress was forced to increase its debt limit by $800 billion-and that is on top of debt increases of $450 billion in 2002 and another $984 billion in 2003. The increase in the debt ceiling in just the past 3 years is almost 2.5 times the entire Federal debt accumulated between 1776 and 1980.

We are in this situation because of the choices of the President and the Republican majority. They chose to prioritize tax cuts for the wealthy, rather than adequately maintaining balanced budgets and protecting the Social Security and Medicare Trust Funds. They chose to engage in a costly, dangerous, and unnecessary war in Iraq, which has sapped our ability to combat al Qaeda and fund important domestic priorities. They chose to bundle funds for 13 Government departments rather than engaging in a robust debate justifying the policies and priorities that we are asking the American people to pay for.

Perhaps most disturbing about this appropriations bill is the process that it has followed. The infamous provision allowing unprecedented authority for Members of Congress and staff to access the private tax returns of individuals and businesses demonstrates that our budget process is broken. This provision was slipped into a 3,000 page bill which Members had no time to read before voting. The process has become corrupted by the Republican majority, which has evidently decided that enacting pet projects and controversial items that cannot pass on their own merit, are more important than debate, compromise, and good governance.

Mr. Speaker, I support this bill because it will allow the important work of the Federal Government to continue. However, I hope that next year's appropriations process reflects a greater commitment to funding important priorities and following a fair and thorough legislative process.