House Passes $1.1 Trillion Bipartisan Spending Measure

The House passed a $1.1 trillion bipartisan spending bill to finance the U.S. government through Sept. 30, a turnaround from the Tea Party-fueled discord that caused a 16-day partial shutdown in October.

The Senate will start considering the measure today with the goal of sending it to President Barack Obama for his signature as soon as possible. The administration supports it.

Three months ago, Tea Party Republicans’ refusal to fund Obama’s 2010 health-care law led to a government shutdown that proved disastrous for the party in public-opinion polls. This time, Republicans agreed to finance the health-care law while Democrats accepted far less spending than they had proposed.

“In this agreement, no one gets everything they want,” Representative Nita Lowey of New York, the top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, said in an interview at the Capitol yesterday. “It’s a good bill, a solid bill.”

House members voted 359-67 yesterday to send the measure to the Senate. Because current funding had been scheduled to lapse last night, both chambers passed a separate measure pushing the deadline to Jan. 18.

The bill includes war funding on top of $1.01 trillion for government operations, an amount lawmakers agreed on in December as part of a two-year budget. While many Tea Party Republicans in the House opposed that plan, Speaker John Boehner criticized Republican-allied groups that campaigned against the budget deal.

‘Using’ Members

“They’re using our members,” Boehner, an Ohio Republican, said on Dec. 11. “This is ridiculous.”

Boehner voted for yesterday’s spending bill. By tradition, the speaker rarely votes on legislation.

Matt Kibbe, president of FreedomWorks, one of the groups that has campaigned against the spending agreement, said in a statement, “I would rather the Republican leadership come clean and admit that they have surrendered the fight for spending reform.”

The bill would continue Congress’s trend toward reducing discretionary funding. Spending in fiscal year 2010, including wars and disaster aid, totaled $1.275 trillion, according to the House Appropriations Committee. That compares with the $1.1 trillion measure for fiscal 2014.

After a 16-day shutdown in October and years of automatic spending cuts and stopgap bills that took the government from crisis to crisis, lawmakers said they were glad to finally vote on a comprehensive plan.

‘Bipartisan Way’

“We ought to recognize that while we’ve had some partisan differences, the legislation was crafted in a bipartisan way,” said Oklahoma Republican Tom Cole, chairman of the subcommittee that oversees legislative operations. “It’s something that we frankly ought to take some pride in.”

Appropriators in the House and Senate worked during the holidays to craft the bill, and they announced the agreement Jan. 13.

Several lawmakers complained that they and their staff members didn’t have time to read the whole measure. Massachusetts Democrat Jim McGovern said on the House floor he expected that lawmakers may soon learn it contains provisions they wouldn’t have wanted.

Still, McGovern said lawmakers had to back the bill because “the alternative is shutting the government down.”

Reading Bill

Taxpayers for Common Sense, a Washington-based advocacy group that opposes government waste, said a person would have to read the bill at more than a page a minute, without sleep, to understand the entire measure in time for the vote.

“While we’re happy Congress is finally getting its work done -– albeit more than three months late -- this is not how legislation that is funding all of government should be done,” Steve Ellis, vice president for Taxpayers for Common Sense, said in an e-mail.

House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers, a Kentucky Republican, told the Rules Committee Jan. 14 that he hoped the rush was a one-year-only event.

“I only wish we could consider each and every bill in this package separately, but unfortunately, the timing gives us one shot and one shot only to get it done,” Rogers said.

Lawmakers have said a more regular appropriations cycle will reduce the threat of shutdowns and provide certainty to businesses and investors.

Dollar Volatility

U.S. dollar volatility in the past 90 days fell to 4.52 percent from its one-year high of 7.34 percent last September as a shutdown and debt crisis neared, according to the Bloomberg U.S. Dollar Index. The index, an indicator of market uncertainty, represents 10 major currencies weighted by liquidity and trade flows.

“Everyone seems to have concluded that last year’s adventures are something never to be repeated,” said Donald Kettl, dean of the University of Maryland’s School of Public Policy, who has testified before Congress on federal spending.

Lowey and Rogers said they intend to pass 12 individual spending bills for fiscal year 2015 before it begins Oct. 1. The last time Congress passed all of its spending bills on time was during the mid-1990s.

This week’s agreement will allow Congress to “get the train back on track,” Rogers said.

The $1.1 trillion measure is H.R. 3547.

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