House OKs funding to run federal government; vote will keep workers on job till Oct. 1

With deadline fatigue setting in, a bipartisan House voted Wednesday to fund the federal government through the end of the fiscal year, which would head off the potential for a government shutdown later this month.

The 267-151 vote also reaffirms sequestration — the $85 billion in cuts all sides agreed to as part of the 2011 debt deal, but that only took effect last week and are now beginning to disrupt government services.

“They are going to occur. And they’re the first and appropriate step for getting our fiscal house back in order,” said Rep. Tom Cole, Oklahoma Republican.

Fifty-three Democrats joined with 214 Republicans in supporting the bill, signaling a strong bipartisan interest in avoiding a government shutdown.

Next up is a vote in the Senate, where Democrats are in control and have vowed to try to rearrange some of the funding — though they appear to have given up on trying to cancel the sequesters, fearing that could lead to another government shutdown showdown.

Most noteworthy is the White House, which issued a statement this week that complained about the sequesters but markedly avoided threatening a filibuster of the House legislation.

The House bill gives the Defense and Veterans Affairs departments some flexibility in dealing with the sequesters, but leaves the cuts in place.

That means what was supposed to be $1.043 trillion in discretionary spending authority this year will instead drop to $984 billion, which will be the lowest level in decades, when measured as a percentage of the size of the U.S. economy.

Democrats said they’d wanted to offer an amendment that would have raised taxes in order to cancel some of the sequesters, both by setting a minimum tax rate for the wealthy and by canceling some tax breaks. But the GOP prohibited amendments.

“Let’s subject every dollar to harsh scrutiny, but we also have to subject all the spending on these tax breaks,” urged House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat.

She took solace in the chance for Senate Democrats to rewrite the bill, saying that will put Republicans on the spot when the measure comes back later this month.

All sides are racing a March 27 deadline, which is when the current funding bill expires — with six months still to go in the fiscal year.

Congress is scheduled to on vacation that week, though, which means the issue will have to be resolved before then.

Wednesday’s House version avoids a host of thorny policy questions that some conservatives had demanded be debated, such as defunding the president’s health care law or at least stopping his “contraceptive mandate” requiring most employers to provide health insurance that covers birth control.

In 2011, House Republicans used a similar stopgap funding debate to try to cancel money for Planned Parenthood and to try to stop many of Mr. Obama’s environmental policies. But all of those were dropped in exchange for the GOP earning some spending cuts.

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