By Jennifer Boyter epublican leaders have indicated that the House and Senate will adjourn for the session without passing the remaining fiscal year 2007 appropriations bills. When lawmakers return to work in early December, they plan to pass another continuing resolution to fund government operations until January, when the 110th Congress begins. As a result, final decisions about spending levels will be determined by Democrats, who will control both houses in the new session.
Before the fiscal year ended on September 30, Congress passed only two of the 12 required spending bills for fiscal year 2007—those funding the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security. Consequently, lawmakers were forced to pass two continuing resolutions to fund the activities covered by the remaining ten bills. This includes the Commerce-Justice-State appropriations bill, which provides most of the state and local law enforcement assistance funding.
The continuing resolution is expected to set spending at the fiscal 2006 rate, the House passed level for fiscal 2007, or the Senate-passed level, whichever is lowest. Since the Senate has passed only the Defense and Homeland Security bills, the actual funding level in the stopgap spending bill will be the lowest of the House-passed or fiscal 2006 level for most of the measures, including the C-J-S spending bill, which was passed by the House on June 29.
Democrats had wanted to finish the fiscal year 2007 spending bills during the lame duck session so that they could start fresh with their own agenda next year. In addition, the White House has called for action on the appropriations bills, because in the absence of any action the administration would have to prepare a fiscal year 2008 budget without knowing the final fiscal year 2007 spending levels. But some Republicans in both houses have stalled work on the remaining bills in order to prevent a large omnibus appropriations bill that they fear would contain too many earmarks and be over budget.
It also appears likely that Congress will adjourn without finishing work on other highprofile bills, including immigration reform and legislation to authorize the administration’s warrantless eavesdropping program. Legislation does not carry over from session to session, and at the start of the 110th Congress in January, all legislation will have to be reintroduced.
Attorney General Gonzales Announces Crime Study at Annual IACP Conference
In an October 16 speech to the attendees of the 113th Annual IACP Conference, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales announced a new initiative in which Justice Department investigators will visit police departments across the country to determine whether more federal dollars are needed to stem the nation’s rise in violent crime. In September, the FBI reported that violent crime rose 2.3 percent in 2005, the largest increase since 1991.
The Justice Department will study local crime rates in selected cities to see why homicides and other violent crime activity are on the rise nationally. It will look for trends in gang violence, drug trafficking, and how inmates released from prison contribute to this increase.
“We need to find out why this is happening [and] what we can do to reverse that trend,” Gonzales told attendees. “And we need to do it together.”
Nevertheless, the initiative does not include any immediate financial assistance for local law enforcement agencies. The IACP has repeatedly decried the large cuts to state and local law enforcement assistance programs and urged Congress to increase funding levels for these vital programs. The IACP believes these budget cuts have been a factor in the increased crime rates.
Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty will lead the initiative, which will focus on investigating crime increases, analyzing those results for any trends, and identifying federal programs that can help.
Gonzales said the review was important to determine the causes of what he described as a “small uptick” in violent crime, but he emphasized that the overall U.S. crime rate is the lowest in more than 30 years.
Justice Department officials said they planned to select cities over the next several weeks based on size and location. After completing the review, the department will determine how best to match federal programs with certain cities and will fund new programs “where necessary.”
Senate Confirms Peters to Head Department of Transportation
On September 30, the Senate confirmed Mary Peters as secretary of the Department of Transportation. Peters served as head of the Federal Highway Administration from 2001 through 2005 and led the Arizona Department of Transportation from 1998 to 2001. She replaces Norman Mineta, the lone Democrat in President Bush’s cabinet. Mineta stepped down July 7.