- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 14, 2011

Crossing the finish line more than six months late, Congress on Thursday finally cleared a spending bill to fund government through the rest of the fiscal year, approving a hard-fought compromise that left neither side happy and that presaged more bruising fights ahead on deficit reduction.

The bill, the result of a late-night deal last week by the top House Republican, the top Senate Democrat and President Obama, averts a government shutdown and includes what they said amounts to the biggest nondefense spending cuts in history, when measured by dollar amount.

Republican leaders said the House and Senate votes Thursday signal a seismic shift in Washington from spending to cutting. But the votes also highlighted the deep divisions in both parties over the pace of federal spending, with conservative Republicans in particular rebelling against their leadership over what they said were too-timid efforts to cut spending in fiscal 2011.

It took a bipartisan effort to pass the legislation — which is usual in the consensus-driven Senate, but was a particular blow to House Republicans, who had hoped they could muster more support from their own troops.

“I just want this bill over with,” said House Appropriations Committee Chairman Harold Rogers, a Kentucky Republican who supported the bill, told his colleagues on the House floor, summing up the prevailing frustration on all sides with the long-overdue legislation.

The House vote was 260-167, with 59 Republicans joining 108 Democrats in opposition. The Senate vote was 81-19 with the opposition coming from 15 Republicans, three Democrats and one liberal independent.

One key “no” vote came from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who rejected the deal negotiated by both Mr. Obama, her party’s leader, and her counterpart in the Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid.

“The House Democrats were not a part of that agreement,” she said. “I feel no ownership of that or any responsibility to it, except that we don’t want to shut down government.”

Next up is a tussle over the budget for next year, followed soon after by a debate on whether to raise the government’s borrowing limit.

Wasting little time, the House is scheduled to vote Friday on its version of the 2012 budget, with lawmakers saying it will cut trillions of dollars from long-term spending, not just the billions at stake in the 2011 spending fight.

Thursday’s bill funds basic government operations for the rest of fiscal 2011, which began Oct. 1. It includes spending cuts that would reduce government outlays by between $20 billion and $25 billion, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

That’s less than the $37.7 billion in cuts Republicans have touted — a figure based on a different measure, known as “budget authority.” And whichever measure is used, it’s far less than the $61 billion in cuts the House passed two months ago, powered by the newly empowered Republican majority.

After the Senate rejected the House bill, Mr. Obama, Mr. Reid and Congress‘ top Republican, House Speaker John A. Boehner, hammered out a final compromise bill behind closed doors.

“Remember, President Obama started this year by calling for zero spending cuts, and now we’re cutting $315 billion over the next 10 years. And there’s more to come,” Mr. Boehner said Thursday. “Listen, this bill’s not perfect. There’s no cause for a celebration. This is just one step.”

The bill trims from hundreds of programs, but does not make the major dents House Republicans had sought. Gone are billions of dollars in cuts to public housing, public broadcasting, the Corporation for National and Community Service, the National Institutes of Health and job-training programs.

Some of the biggest savings come from reductions that would have been made anyway: $6.5 billion in recapturing unspent money from previous years, and an additional $6.2 billion in lower spending for the U.S. Census Bureau, which was already going to see a drop after the 2010 census ended.

“We minimized the damage,” said Rep. Norman D. Dicks of Washington, the ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee.

At Mr. Obama’s insistence, House Republicans gave up their quest to add most legislative add-ons, known as “policy riders,” to the bill. The most contentious of those riders would have stopped funding for the new health care law, for the Environmental Protection Agency’s plans to regulate greenhouse gases, and for Planned Parenthood.

Instead, Mr. Boehner had the Senate agree to hold separate votes on measures to defund Planned Parenthood and Mr. Obama’s health care plan — both efforts failing in the Senate on Thursday.

The final spending bill included restrictions on taxpayer funding for abortions in the District of Columbia, and fully restored a school voucher program in the city.

Congress was late on the spending bills because Democrats failed to produce a budget in either the House or Senate last year, and failed to pass any of the dozen annual appropriations bills to fund the basic functions of government.

Since Oct. 1, the start of the fiscal year, the government has been running on stopgap funding, which left many agency programs in limbo.

The spending bill was the first major test for Mr. Boehner’s pledge to run the House in a more open fashion than his predecessors.

The House spent more than 60 hours debating its bill and held roll-call votes on more than 100 amendments. But in the end, the speaker struck a deal behind closed doors.

The Senate, meanwhile, never passed a version of its own, meaning politically vulnerable senators never had to take a series of difficult votes, but as a result had little role in writing the final compromise.



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