Massive House Budget Bill Faces Opposition in Senate
Washington (AP) - The fate of House legislation to freeze the budgets of most Cabinet departments and fund the war in Afghanistan for another year is now in the hands of the Senate, where it faces uncertain prospects.
The House passed the bill Wednesday evening by a 212-206 vote. It would cap the annual operating budgets of federal agencies at the $1.2 trillion approved for the recently finished budget year -- a $46 billion cut of more than 3 percent from President Barack Obama's request.
It includes $159 billion to prosecute the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq next year and deals a blow to Obama's efforts to close the Navy-run prison for terrorist suspects in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
The 423-page measure, opposed by Republicans, conservative Democrats and some anti-war lawmakers, wraps a dozen unfinished spending bills into a single measure.
Senate Democrats are working on a different approach that would provide slightly more money and would include thousands of pet projects sought by lawmakers. It's unclear whether that measure can get enough support from GOP old-timers to survive a filibuster by party conservatives. The House bill is free of such "earmarks."
The bill, combined with a massive measure to extend the Bush-era tax cuts, extend unemployment benefits and cut the payroll tax, represents the bulk of Congress' unfinished work as the lame-duck session approaches its close.
A widely backed food safety bill is also hitching a ride on the legislation. The measure passed the Senate by a 73-25 vote last week but got caught in a snag because it contained revenue provisions that, under the Constitution, must originate in the House.
There are many exceptions to the budget freeze. Health care programs for veterans and the military would get a boost, and the measure adds $5.7 billion to the Pell Grant program for low-income college students to maintain the maximum grant at $5,550. People serving in the military would get a 1.4 percent pay raise, but civilian federal workers would have their salaries frozen, as requested by Obama last week.
The measure passed over Republican protests that it still spends too much money and caps an unprecedented collapse of the federal budget process in which not a single one of the 12 annual spending bills has yet passed Congress. Ten of 12 House bills haven't even been made public.
House Republicans wanted a short-term measure to punt the unfinished budget business into next year, when they will assume the majority and have more leverage to seek spending concessions from Obama.
House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey, D-Wis., said the legislation would "salvage some investments which over the long haul just might create more jobs than a tax break for millionaires."
Obey was able to find money for some Democratic priorities because other accounts were cut, especially for the census and military base closings, which are $11 billion below fiscal year 2010 levels.
That allowed Obey to maintain increased federal air marshal presence on international flights, add money for the Indian Health Service and provide $550 million for Obama's signature "Race to the Top" program, which provides grants to better-performing schools.
The budget for high-speed rail would take a cut, as would Obama's budget for construction of new federal buildings. But housing subsidies for the poor would get an increase, as would grants to localities to shelter the homeless.
In the Senate, Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, backed by Democratic leaders, has fashioned an omnibus spending measure -- providing almost $20 billion more than the House bill -- that he wants to substitute for the measure being passed across the Capitol.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., opposes Inouye's move, but GOP members of the Appropriations Committee, such as Sens. Thad Cochran of Mississippi and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, are open to the idea.
The underlying House bill would provide the Pentagon $513 billion for core operations, which is a 1 percent increase to cover pay and health care, but $17 billion less than Obama requested in February.
The Homeland Security Department would see its budget frozen rather than rising almost 3 percent, as Obama sought.
Foreign aid programs, however, would receive a $2.2 billion -- more than 4 percent -- increase to fund counterinsurgency programs by the Pakistani government, help stabilize Iraq and meet long-standing commitments to Israel and Egypt.
The bill also contains $624 million to implement the nuclear weapons treaty with Russia, known as New START, that's pending before the Senate.