Congress Adopts Stopgap Budget as Lawmakers Eye Campaigns

Congress adopted a stopgap budget measure to fund the federal government’s day-to-day operations before lawmakers adjourned to campaign for the Nov. 6 election.

The Senate voted 62-30 early today to clear legislation that would give most agencies a 0.6 percent budget increase after the start of the fiscal year until March 27, 2013.

The vote sends the measure to President Barack Obama for his signature. The legislation was adopted Sept. 13 by the House, 329-91, after Republicans dropped their demands for billions of dollars in additional spending cuts included in House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s fiscal plan.

The budget vote came after lawmakers rejected Kentucky Republican Rand Paul’s proposal to cut off aid to Pakistan, Libya and Eqypt in retaliation for attacks on U.S. embassies and the arrest of Shakil Afridi, a Pakistani doctor who helped the U.S. track Osama bin Laden.

The budget measure, H.J. Res. 117, ends a budget fight while lawmakers delay the more contentious debate about expiring George W. Bush-era income-tax cuts and $1.2 trillion in automatic spending cuts set to begin in January. Congress was in session for two weeks after lawmakers returned from their August recess.

The Senate vote had been held up in part by Paul’s demands for a vote on his foreign-aid bill, which some lawmakers had hoped to avoid.

“When you see 10,000 people outside the embassy in Pakistan burning the U.S. flag, can you imagine that we would send them more money?” Paul said. “We have roads in our country that are crumbling and need repair” and “we don’t have the money but we somehow have billions of dollars to send to people who disrespect us and burn our flag.”

‘Valuable Tools’

A number of his Republican colleagues went to the Senate floor to oppose Paul. “If you withdraw aid, you take one of the most valuable tools off the table,” said Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican who serves on the Armed Services committee. “There has to be more tools in the toolkit than just bombing people or disengaging.”

The spending bill would fund agencies for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1 at an annualized rate of $1.047 trillion, the amount lawmakers agreed to last year as part of a deal to raise the federal debt limit.

House Republicans led by Ryan, the Republican vice presidential nominee, had sought an additional $19 billion in cuts as part of their budget adopted in March. That led to a months-long impasse with Senate Democrats, who accused them of reneging on last year’s deal. None of the dozen annual spending measures have been signed into law.

Though the stopgap measure provides most programs with a 0.6 percent increase, some initiatives -- including cybersecurity, wildfire-suppression efforts and veterans’ disability-benefit processing -- would receive more. The legislation also would extend a pay freeze for federal workers, including members of Congress.

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