House-Senate negotiators unveil spending bill

November 14, 2011 - 11:25 PM

WASHINGTON (AP) — House-Senate negotiators agreed Monday night on a bundle of spending measures for the ongoing budget year, blending cuts to NASA and community development programs while averting cuts to nutrition programs like food stamps.

The approximately $180 billion measure would fund the day-to-day departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Justice, Transportation and Housing and Urban Development, as well as the space program.

It also contains stopgap spending legislation to keep the government running until Dec. 16 to buy lawmakers more time for a raft of other spending bills, but many of those measures are freighted with controversy. Without the stopgap measure, the government would partially shut down this weekend.

Lawmakers face a midnight deadline on Friday to act on the measure, which is part of a bundle of three spending bills unveiled Monday night. House and Senate leaders promised votes this week on the legislation, which would forestall a partial shutdown of the government.

The legislation would represent the first concrete step to implement a controversial budget pact sealed by President Barack Obama and congressional Republicans this summer, which traded a $2 trillion-plus increase in the government's ability to borrow to meet its obligations with promises of future budget cuts.

The legislation represents a hard-fought bargain between the GOP-controlled House and the Democratic Senate by the powerful Appropriations committees. But it's sure to run into opposition from tea party Republicans who want deeper cuts.

Congress has yet to complete action on a single spending measure for the 2012 budget year, which started more than a month ago.

The August budget agreement set a $1.043 trillion "cap" on agency operating levels, about a $7 billion cut — less than 1 percent — from prior-year levels. But the budget pact also permits more than $11 billion in additional spending for natural disasters, which means the current crop of spending bills will ultimately exceed the cost of the last round — a sore point with tea party conservatives already unhappy with the GOP's efforts to cut spending.

Monday's measure covers everything from community development grants, Amtrak operating subsidies, funding for private sector space flight and the FBI.

NASA would absorb a $648 million cut to its budget made possible by the retirement of the Space Shuttle fleet. Democrats restored cuts to housing subsidies for the poor, food stamps and a popular program that feeds mothers and their infants. Amtrak would receive $1.4 billion for operating subsidies and capital improvements, while a much-criticized program that subsidizes airlines that serve rural airports was largely left intact.

The House is slated to vote on the spending measures on Thursday, with the Senate to follow.

Congressional leaders announced Monday plans for a stopgap spending measure to keep the government running through mid-December.

Lawmakers face a midnight deadline on Friday to act on the measure, which is part of a bundle of three spending bills expected to be unveiled Monday night. House and Senate leaders promised votes this week on the legislation, which would forestall a partial shutdown of the government.

Congress has yet to complete action on a single spending measure for the 2012 budget year, which started more than a month ago.

The underlying spending legislation totals more than $180 billion and would fund the day-to-day departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Justice, Transportation and Housing and Urban Development, as well as the space program.

The legislation would represent the first concrete step to implement a controversial budget pact sealed by President Barack Obama and congressional Republicans this summer, which traded a $2 trillion-plus increase in the government's ability to borrow to meet its obligations with promises of future budget cuts.

The follow-up spending bills, taken together, would roughly freeze agency budgets at levels negotiated earlier this year in hard-fought negotiations between Obama and Speaker John Boehner. The Pentagon and the Veterans Administration would get slight increases, while many domestic agencies would bear further cuts.

The August budget agreement set a $1.043 trillion "cap" on agency operating levels, about a $7 billion cut — less than 1 percent — from prior-year levels. But the budget pact also permits more than $11 billion in additional spending for natural disasters, which means the current crop of spending bills will ultimately exceed the cost of the last round — a sore point with tea party conservatives already unhappy with the GOP's efforts to cut spending.

Monday's measure covers everything from community development grants, Amtrak operating subsidies, funding for private sector space flight, and the FBI. Community development grants to local governments are sure to bear cuts, and Obama appears unlikely to win the big budget boost he sought for the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, one of the main agencies responsible for implementing last year's financial services overhaul legislation.

The House is slated to vote on the spending measures on Thursday, with the Senate to follow.