WASHINGTON – The first order of business facing the Senate on Tuesday is passage of the $373 billion omnibus spending bill for the 2004 fiscal year, delayed for months by partisan bickering.
The bill includes seven of the 13 annual spending bills that were supposed to be ready on Oct. 1. The legislation was delayed by partisan bickering over the decision by GOP leaders to cut out some popular measures that had won support in both chambers. The House has already passed the omnibus package.
Biggest among the related measures on the chopping block were provisions preventing the Bush administration from removing overtime pay (search) guarantees for many white-collar workers and requiring meat products to carry country-of-origin labels. The delays came before the recent case of mad cow disease (search) in Washington state.
"Country-of-origin labeling is a program that Democrats included in the 2002 farm bill, and would give American consumers the ability to 'Buy American' at the grocery store," Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., told reporters on Friday.
"Every American could perform a simple but significant act of patriotism whenever they visit the supermarket. But the administration and some congressional leaders have again done the bidding of the powerful meatpacking cartel and are trying to block this important effort to allow consumers a simple choice about the food they feed their families," Daschle said in an event with House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., in which the two offered a "prebuttal" to President Bush's State of the Union (search) address.
The new overtime rules would expand access to overtime pay for low-paid workers, but restrict it for white-collar employees. The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on labor had scheduled a Tuesday hearing on the issue that included Labor Secretary Elaine Chao and Richard L. Trumka, secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO.
While Congress recessed for the holidays, it had extended a continuing resolution (search) to keep government operating at the previous year's levels until Jan. 31. The resolution will have to be renewed if Congress cannot complete an appropriations bill by then.
Along with spending invariably comes taxes. Following an aggressive tax cut agenda in 2003, Senate Republican leader Bill Frist did not rule out future cuts to stimulate job growth.
"Further tax cuts, like in manufacturing that we're likely to see in this Congress, will have an impact in growing this overall economy to make sure that ultimately tax revenues will increase over time in respect to these tax cuts that we put on the table in the past," Frist of Tennessee told Fox News.
While the current budget and future tax relief remains unsettled, Congress still has other work to do.
On Wednesday, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is to hear from nuclear experts for an update on the latest developments in North Korea. The Bush administration has been working with Chinese officials to get North Korea to return to six-way talks on the status of its nuclear weapons program.
The House Committee on Agriculture is expected on Wednesday to take up the U.S. Department of Agriculture's response to last month's outbreak of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, better known as mad cow disease. While Congress was in recess last month, a Holstein cow in Washington state was diagnosed with the disease, the first case ever in the United States.
The cow originally came from Canada. On Monday, the Agriculture Department announced that it had identified 23 of the 81 cattle that had been in the shipment to the United States. No other cases of the disease have yet been discovered, but the administration has taken aggressive steps, including the slaughter of hundreds of Washington state cows, in order to increase confidence in U.S. beef.
Supporters of country-of-origin labeling (search) say that the labels could have helped maintain consumer confidence in their products during the mad cow scare. But opponents say the labels would not do anything to guarantee safe beef.
Among the other events this week, a House Armed Services subcommittee is expected to receive testimony on reserve component health care.
"Democrats will keep fighting to ensure that this nation keeps faith with our service men and women, their families and our veterans, including ending the disabled veterans tax — for all disabled veterans. And we must change the Military Survivors' Benefit Plan, which unfairly penalizes the survivors, mostly widows, of our veterans," Pelosi said.
On Friday, the House Ways and Means Oversight Subcommittee will be receiving written comments on legislation to streamline the student aid approval process.
On Wednesday, the full House is expected to deliberate over several less controversial measures, including resolutions addressing the benefits of mentoring and commending the successful landing of the Mars probe.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.