Congress Clears Legislation to Avoid Government Shutdown
Congress gave final approval to legislation to avert a partial government shutdown in a rare example of bipartisan cooperation on federal spending.
The House voted 318-109 today to send the budget bill --, which would fund federal agencies through Sept. 30, the end of the 2013 fiscal year -- to President Barack Obama for his signature. The Senate passed the measure with bipartisan support yesterday, 73-26.
The legislation currently keeping agencies’ lights on expires March 27.
House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers called the vote a “remarkable” example of cross-party cooperation.
“I’m proud of the fact that we were able to do all of this frankly as smoothly as it has gone,” the Kentucky Republican said. “We’ve proved that when we set our mind to it, we can get complicated, hard things done and that’s what this bill does.”
The vast majority of Republicans -- 203 -- supported the measure, with just 27 voting “nay.” On the Democratic side, 115 voted for the bill and 82 opposed it.
The Senate immediately moved into a more partisan debate over the Democrats’ budget for the 2014 fiscal year, a plan that is mostly aimed at replacing the $1.2 trillion in across-the-board spending cuts that began March 1 with a combination of tax increases and spending reductions.
The House today also passed Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s competing fiscal 2014 tax-and-spending plan, 221-207, which calls for eliminating the deficit within a decade.
Even as they are locked in bitter disputes over taxes and entitlements, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle in both chambers hailed the cooperation that went into passing the so-called “continuing resolution,” which pays for agencies’ daily operating expenses.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, thanked House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, for sending him the chamber’s first draft of the legislation --the House initially passed it on March 6 -- with plenty of time for the typically balkier Senate to act before the current funding expires. Senate Democrats, meanwhile, kept in touch with House Republicans to ensure that the hundreds of pages of changes they made to the plan were also acceptable to them.
“This is pretty good to show that we can work on a bipartisan basis, that we can actually govern and that we can conduct ourselves with decorum,” said Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski, a Maryland Democrat.
The bill, which runs 1,000 pages including explanatory documents, doesn’t attempt to fix the $85 billion in automatic budget cuts, also known as sequestration. It does make special accommodations though for some programs. The Senate added provisions aimed at preventing furloughs of government meat inspectors triggered by the cuts. Meatpacking plants are barred from operating without daily federal oversight.
“Backlogs in food inspections could result in the shutdown of processing facilities and send devastating ripple effects through rural communities and straight to the shelves of every market and grocery in the country,” said Senator Christopher Coons, a Delaware Democrat.
The measure also orders the Pentagon to continue a tuition-assistance program for service members that had been suspended in response to the automatic spending cuts.
The bill provides some programs with modest funding increases that may also help soften sequestration’s blow. It would provide an additional $10 billion for the Defense Department’s “operations and maintenance” accounts, which pay to train troops, maintain weapons and other daily operations, and includes an additional $250 million for the Women, Infants and Children program, which provides nutritional assistance to low-income mothers. Under sequestration, the WIC program had been reduced by about $350 million.
In many cases, though, the additional funding is a fraction of what was cut. The National Institutes of Health, the government’s medical research arm, would receive a $71 million increase -- even as it takes a $1.5 billion sequestration hit.
Democrats had sought to give agencies expanded authority to rework their budgets to accommodate sequestration. Republicans opposed that because they said it would usurp the power of Congress to control spending.
In all, the measure would provide $1.043 trillion in non-emergency funding, though sequestration will reduce that to about $984 billion. The bill also includes about $100 billion in “emergency” war-related money.
It would extend a pay freeze for federal workers and fund efforts to restore the Capitol’s cast-iron dome, one of the oldest such structures in the world.
In addition, it would provide a $193,400 “bereavement payment” to the wife of the late Hawaii Senator Daniel Inouye, a Democrat who died in December. It’s a tradition in Congress to provide one year’s salary to the survivor of a lawmaker who dies in office.
The bill is H.R. 933.
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