- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Senate on Tuesday cleared the last must-pass bill of the year, a stopgap spending measure that funds basic government operations through March 4 at the same rate as in 2010.

House passage was expected later Tuesday, and the bill then will go to the White House for Mr. Obama’s signature. That will end, at least for now, one of the messier spending fights, during which Congress did not adopt a budget and none of the dozen annual spending bills was passed.

The Senate vote was 79-16 to pass the measure, with 14 Republicans and two Democrats voting against it. Most of the opposition came from conservatives who had wanted to see spending cuts.

Instead, the bill essentially freezes funding at 2010 level, or about $1.091 trillion. It reduces funding no longer needed for the Census Bureau, which has completed the 2010 census, and boosts funding for Democratic priorities such as Pell Grants for lower-income college students.

But both sides acknowledged they are merely putting off for two months the big decisions — by which time the GOP will control the House. The Republicans have vowed to try to cut spending back to 2008 levels.

“We can kick the ball down the field a little bit, but on March the fourth, the battle will be joined again,” said Sen. Tom Harkin, Iowa Democrat, ticking off food assistance, child-care payments and job training as priorities Democrats will try to defend. “If they’re going to cut 21 percent from all this, I just want to say there’s going to be a battle.”

But Sen. Tom Coburn, Oklahoma Republican, said lawmakers are going to have to look beyond their favored programs and consider the complete picture of the government’s broken finances.

“The fact is, everything’s going to have to be looked at,” Mr. Coburn said. “Everything, every project for every senator, every position, every program, if we’re to solve the major problems that are facing this country.”

Tuesday’s bill came only after Republican senators unified last week to block Senate Democrats’ 1,926-page omnibus spending bill, which would have increased spending by $16 billion over 2010 levels.

House Democratic leaders already have pushed a full-year stopgap spending measure through, but are likely to cave to the Senate’s shorter-term bill.

Still, the Senate compromise didn’t please many, including those who supported the bill despite their misgivings.

“A very sad ‘Aye,’” said Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, Maryland Democrat, when she voted.

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