U.S. House Boosts Spending With Approval of Stopgap Budget Plan

A stopgap budget measure providing federal agencies with a 0.6 percent funding increase won House approval in what will likely be the last major bill to clear Congress before the Nov. 6 election.

In a victory for Democrats, lawmakers voted 329-91 yesterday to adopt a measure that would fund most programs until March 27, 2013. The bipartisan vote came after Republicans dropped their demands for big spending cuts included in House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s budget seven months ago. Republicans called it a tactical retreat.

“A lot more can be done next year after the election, than can be done right now,” said Representative James Lankford, a freshman Republican from Oklahoma. “Six months from now, hopefully we’ll have a different Senate and a different president.”

Representative Chris Van Hollen, the top Democrat on the Budget Committee, said Republicans “know the public sees them as obstructionists and, if they were to threaten to shut down the government, it would boomerang.”

The bill was opposed by 70 Republicans and 21 Democrats. The measure now goes to the Senate, where party leaders have said they plan to clear it for President Barack Obama’s signature. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said last night he would schedule a procedural vote on the measure for Sept. 19. The bill would fund the government into its new fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1.

Budget Fights

The legislation, H.J. Res. 117, would end one budget fight facing Congress while lawmakers delay debate on the knottier issues of the expiring George W. Bush-era income tax rates and $110 billion in automatic spending cuts set to begin in January.

The bill provides $19 billion more for the discretionary portion of the federal budget than Ryan had proposed in his fiscal plan adopted by the House in March. Ryan, the Republican vice presidential nominee, returned to Washington and voted for the measure. Asked why Ryan backed the measure, campaign spokesman Brendan Buck said in an e-mail: “While spending should be lower, Ryan supported this legislation to prevent a government shutdown.”

It would fund agencies at an annualized rate of $1.047 trillion, excluding emergency spending, which would translate to a 0.6 percent across-the-board increase for most federal programs. A few initiatives, including cyber security, wildfire-suppression efforts, veterans’ disability-benefit processing and next year’s presidential inauguration would get more.

The legislation also extends the pay freeze for federal workers, including members of Congress.

Ryan Plan

The Republican-passed budget prompted a months-long standoff with Democrats, who said the plan amounted to reneging on an agreement on funding levels for the 2013 fiscal year. None of the dozen annual spending bills has been signed into law, with Obama saying he would veto them all unless Republicans relented on spending levels.

South Carolina Republican Mick Mulvaney dismissed questions on why Republicans are now willing to support a budget increase that includes money to implement the administration’s 2010 health-care overhaul.

“We voted against Obamacare 33 times; if you don’t know we stand against that, you’re not paying attention,” he said. “It’s a temporary bill so hopefully the election goes a certain way so we can fix this.”

Shutting Government

Representative Allen West, a freshman Republican from Florida, said: “What do you want me to do? Do you want me to do nothing and shut down the government?” California Republican John Campbell, who also supported the legislation, said neither party wanted a spending fight diverting attention from the presidential contest.

“We want them making the news -- not us -- and I think that’s true of Republicans and Democrats,” Campbell said.

Not all Republicans were happy with their party’s retreat. The anti-tax Club for Growth urged Republicans to oppose the measure, calling it “bad policy simply because it extends big spending programs.” The bill is “just another omnibus, spend-as-you-go measure that extends the federal government’s incoherent fiscal policy,” the Heritage Foundation said in an analysis.

Arizona Republican Jeff Flake, who opposed the measure, said “spending levels are still too high, and this bill does nothing to address that.”

Nondefense programs would receive $490 billion in the measure, while defense-related ones would get $557 billion. That latter figure may trigger a second, smaller defense spending cut, in addition to the much larger one coming in January, because it exceeds the $546 billion cap on defense spending established in last year’s budget agreement.

The bill provides an additional $107 billion in emergency spending, most of which would go to war-related expenses. It also would provide $6.4 billion for disaster assistance and $483 million to screen Social Security disability beneficiaries to ensure they meet the program’s criteria.

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