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Senate Passes Legislation to Avoid Government Shutdown

Senate Passes Legislation to Avoid Government Shutdown

Congress is set to clear a measure to avoid a partial U.S. government shutdown, in a rare example of bipartisan and bicameral cooperation on federal spending.

The Senate voted 73-26 yesterday to forward to the House legislation that would keep agencies’ lights on through Sept. 30, the end of the 2013 fiscal year. Republicans there are poised to vote on the bill today and send it to President Barack Obama for his signature. Legislation currently funding the executive branch expires March 27, and without action by Congress agencies would begin running out of money.

Leaders in both parties “wanted to not do a shutdown of the government, we needed to avoid that,” House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers, a Kentucky Republican, told reporters.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski, the bill’s chief sponsor, said, “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.”

Almost half of the Senate’s Republicans backed the measure, along with every Democrat who voted except Montana’s Jon Tester.

The vote clears the way for a more partisan debate over the Senate Democrats’ budget for the 2014 fiscal year. House Republicans are scheduled to vote today on Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s latest tax-and-spending plan, which calls for eliminating the deficit within a decade.

$1.2 Trillion

After yesterday’s vote on the stopgap funding bill, the Senate immediately took up a separate measure aimed at fixing $1.2 trillion in spending cuts that began earlier this month. It would replace the automatic reductions with a combination of tax increases on the wealthy and cuts in defense, agriculture and other spending. If approved, it would be the Senate’s first budget since 2009.

The Senate vote on the funding legislation came after lawmakers adopted an amendment aimed at preventing furloughs of government meat inspectors triggered by the spending cuts, known as sequestration. The bill shifts $55 million to the Agriculture Department’s Food Safety and Inspection Service to help it avoid having to pull inspectors from meatpacking plants 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.

Funding Increases

The bill allows modest funding increases to some other programs. 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.

It also includes an additional $250 million for the Women, Infants and Children program, which provides nutritional assistance to low-income mothers, which 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 it because they said it would usurp the power of Congress to control spending.

War-Related Money

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.

The measure 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.

It also 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.

(For more on the budget debate, see EXT7.)