Passed by Senate, Budget Heads to Obama's Desk
Thanks to what some in the Senate labeled "Thursday night magic," a $1.1 trillion spending bill to fund federal agencies is headed to President Obama's desk, warding off the specter of a government shutdown in this fiscal year.
Lawmakers agreed to speed up Senate procedure, bringing up the measure that the House passed Wednesday night for a final vote Thursday. The “omnibus” package cleared the upper chamber on a 72-26 vote.
“We’re a little late, but we’ve gotten the job done,” Senate Appropriations Chair Barbara Mikulski said the measure that will fund the government through Sept. 30.
The bill was the result of a newsmaking budget agreement late last year in the wake of a nearly three-week government shutdown that furloughed thousands of federal workers and soured the approval rating of GOP members of Congress. Putting a possible reprise of that fiasco to rest was a significant driver for lawmakers in a midterm election year where control of the Senate is at stake.
The spending is split between the Pentagon and non-defense programs. It restores cuts to Head Start and other programs (such as health research) affected by sequester cuts, and it increases the budget by about $26 billion.
Lawmakers had only a few days to comb through the more than 1,500-page bill, which Mikulski and her House counterpart, Hal Rogers, introduced earlier this week. Conservative outside groups, protesting the bill on those grounds and because it increased spending from the 2011 Budget Control Act, promised to score the vote.
Republican Sen. Ted Cruz tried to hold up vote by seeking an amendment to defund the Affordable Care Act -- a maneuver that led to last year’s shutdown. Despite such opposition, 21 Republicans voted for the measure. GOP Leadership was divided, with Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Sens. John Cornyn, John Barrasso, and John Thune voting against it and Roy Blunt and Jerry Moran voting in favor.
“I think anytime we can demonstrate there is an ability to govern and to work on behalf of the American people, that’s a good thing for 2014. And, this is a piece of evidence that there is an effort to solve the country’s problems,” Moran told RCP. The Kansas Republican chairs the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which works to elect members of the GOP to Congress.
Moran didn’t vote for the budget agreement last year, but backed the spending bill because it moved the chamber away from a long pattern of short-term funding measures. “Certainly shutdown is not a good thing, and continuing resolutions take away the opportunity of Congress to play a roll in determining what the spending priorities are,” he said. “And in the absence of appropriations, we don’t have the ability to prioritize or take away bad programs.”
Others, though, protested the measure’s top-line number -- which was agreed to in December -- and what could be hidden in the 1,500 pages of legislation.
“While I appreciate the hard work by colleagues to try to stay within the constraints of the budget agreement, the total spending in this bill is too much during a time of record debt,” said Ohio’s Rob Portman, a former OMB chair during the Bush administration. “These large omnibus bills are the wrong way to legislate and lead to last-minute, haphazard bills. Rather than implementing spending priorities through a 1,582-page omnibus bill that lawmakers have only had a few days to read -- with no amendments allowed -- Congress should get back to regular order, including passing appropriations bills based on a budget and having an open amendment process.”
While passage of the measure puts off the threat of a shutdown, it did not address another divisive fiscal issue: the debt ceiling, which will need to be raised next month. But given the potential impact default could have on election year politics, lawmakers don’t appear as interested in such brinksmanship this time around. Still, it remains the next issue of contention facing Congress.
Lawmakers are now in recess until Jan. 27, the day before Obama will visit Capitol Hill to give his State of the Union Address.