- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 17, 2011

Breaking a legislative drought that had extended for two years, Congress on Thursday passed three of its annual spending bills and a stopgap measure to keep the rest of the government open through the middle of December, though not without deep partisan divides.

The $128.1 billion bill, which funds several major government departments through Sept. 30, passed the House 298-121, and the Senate 70-30, and now goes to President Obama, who must sign it before midnight Friday in order to avoid a government shutdown.

It marks the first time Congress has passed a somewhat normal spending bill since 2009. The chasm between the parties over the rate of spending helped derail last year’s spending process, and threatened to ruin this year’s process as well, after the Democratic-controlled Senate failed to produce a budget.

But this summer’s debt deal set an overall discretionary funding level, clearing the way for the appropriations process to resume at levels higher than Republicans wanted, but lower than Democrats wanted.

“This is a well-balanced bill,” said Sen. Herb Kohl, Wisconsin Democrat and one of the chief negotiators.

While the leaders of both parties supported the agreement, conservatives staged a minor revolt, arguing it represented a step backward on Republican pledges to rein in spending and try to limit Mr. Obama’s executive action.

“I don’t think the American public knows how bad they’ve been hoodwinked by Congress,” said Sen. Tom Coburn, an Oklahoma Republican who voted against the bill. “We have to have real cuts if we’re going to create a future for our kids.”

In the House, the conservative revolt was strong enough that Republican leaders had to rely on Democratic votes to pass the bill. Democrats voted for it 165-20, while Republicans were more evenly split, 133-101 in favor.

It’s the third time this year House GOP leaders have had to turn to Democrats to pass a stopgap spending bill.

In the Senate, all 30 “no” votes came from Republicans, meaning nearly two-thirds of the chamber’s GOP members opposed the agreement.

The deal restored money House Republicans had sought to cut for the COPS program, which funds state and local police, and actually represented an increase in funding over last year for the Women, Infants and Children food program. The final agreement also deleted most of the policy restrictions House Republicans had sought to attach, such as limits on the president’s global warming initiatives and on food aid to North Korea.

Conservative interest groups opposed the bill’s increase in the maximum Federal Housing Authority mortgage limit, and said they would grade negatively lawmakers who voted for the bill. That helped boost the conservative opposition.

The bill combines the agriculture, commerce and transportation spending bills, which also cover the Justice Department, science funding and the Housing and Urban Development Department for fiscal year 2012, which began Oct. 1.

The measure represents a slight $500 million cut in those programs versus fiscal year 2011 spending, which works out to less than 0.5 percent. But it is $29.5 billion less than Mr. Obama requested in his budget, submitted earlier this year.