Big budget bill has many trade-offs
The Associated Press
WASHINGTON — A massive $1.1 trillion spending bill, aimed at funding the government through October and putting to rest the bitter budget battles of last year, is getting generally positive reviews from House Republicans who are eager to avoid another shutdown crisis with elections looming.
Republicans say the favorable response to the all-encompassing spending bill reflects the desire of the rank and file to avoid a repeat of the politically damaging standoffs with the White House that led to last year’s 16-day partial government shutdown. The closure sent congressional approval numbers plummeting and roughed up Republicans in particular.
Since then, they have regained support amid the troubled rollout of President Barack Obama’s health care law.
“The shutdown educated — particularly our younger members who weren’t here during our earlier shutdown — about how futile that practice is,” said House Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers, R-Ky. “There is a real hard determination now that we will reacquire and use the power of the purse that the Congress constitutionally has been given.”
Rep. Steve Womack, R-Ark., said the new legislation would get “our country off this notion of shutting the government down” and would allow Republicans to keep the spotlight on other issues, a reference to the health care law that’s weighing politically on Democrats.
Tea party favorites including Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, also have been slow to criticize the spending measure, which appears likely to pass the Senate no later than Saturday and probably before then. Cruz was a key force in the strategy to shut down the government over funding of so-called Obamacare.
The spending measure contains dozens of trade-offs between Democrats and Republicans as it fleshes out the details of the budget deal that Congress passed last month. That pact gave relatively modest but much-sought relief to the Pentagon and domestic agencies after deep cuts last year.
Western Republicans from timber country were anxious about payments to towns surrounded by federal lands but were reassured that the payments would be extended though separate legislation. Gulf Coast lawmakers praised a provision aimed at delaying federal flood insurance premium increases from new flood maps that have proven faulty, but the provision left in place other changes enacted in 2012.
The GOP-led House is slated to pass the 1,582-page bill Wednesday, though some tea party conservatives are sure to oppose it.
Democrats pleased with new money to educate preschoolers and build high-priority highway projects are likely to make up the difference even as Republican social conservatives worry about losing familiar battles over abortion policy.
The bill would avert spending cuts that threatened construction of new aircraft carriers and next-generation Joint Strike Fighters. It maintains rent subsidies for the poor, awards federal civilian and military workers a 1 percent raise and beefs up security at U.S. embassies across the globe. The Obama administration would be denied money to meet its full commitments to the International Monetary Fund but get much of the money it wanted to pay for implementation of the new health care law and the 2010 overhaul of financial regulations.
“This agreement shows the American people that we can compromise, and that we can govern,” said Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski, D-Md. “It puts an end to shutdown, slowdown, slamdown politics.”
The measure doesn’t contain in-your-face victories for either side. The primary achievement was that there was an agreement in the first place after the collapse of the budget process last year, followed by the shutdown and another brush with a default on U.S. obligations. After the shutdown and debt crisis last fall, House Budget committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Senate Budget Committee Chairman Patty Murray, D-Wash., struck an agreement to avoid a repeat of the 5 percent cut applied to domestic agencies last year and to prevent the Pentagon from absorbing about $20 billion in new cuts on top of the ones that hit it last year.
To be sure, there is plenty for both parties to oppose in the legislation. Conservatives face a vote to finance implementation of Obama’s health care overhaul and Wall Street regulations, both enacted in 2010 over solid Republican opposition. A conservative-backed initiative to block the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gas emissions was dumped and social conservatives failed to win new restrictions on abortion.
Democrats must accept new money for sexual abstinence education programs they often ridicule, and conservatives can take heart that overall spending for daily agency operations has been cut by $79 billion, or 7 percent, from the high-water mark established by Democrats in 2010. That cut increases to $165 billion, or 13 percent, when cuts in war funding and disaster spending are accounted for. Money for Obama’s high-speed rail program would be cut off — a defeat for California Democrats — and rules restricting the sale of less efficient incandescent light bulbs would be blocked.
The Pentagon will get about $6 billion more in war funding than the $79 billion Obama requested. The additional money is helping the Pentagon deal with a cash crunch in troop readiness accounts. Including foreign aid related to overseas security operations, total war funding reaches $92 billion, a slight cut from last year.
At the same time, the bill is laced with sweeteners. One is a provision exempting disabled veterans and war widows from a pension cut enacted last month. The bill contains increases for veterans’ medical care backed by both sides and fully funds the $6.7 billion budget for food aid for low-income pregnant women and their children.
Associated Press writer Donna Cassata contributed to this report.