Senate Advances Bill Aimed at Averting Shutdown

September 28, 2010 - 11:41 AM

Washington (AP) - A stopgap spending bill that's needed to avert a government shutdown on Friday advanced in the Senate as lawmakers prepared to head for the exits for the midterm elections.

The measure easily advanced, 83-15, Tuesday on a procedural vote that puts it on track to pass the Senate on Wednesday, and the House could clear it for President Barack Obama before the budget year ends at midnight Thursday.

To speed the measure through, lawmakers ignored administration pleas for add-ons such as $1.9 billion for "Race to the Top" grants to better-performing schools and more than $4 billion to finance settlements of long-standing lawsuits by black farmers and American Indians against the government.

A bid to use the measure to keep alive a grant program from last year's economic stimulus bill that many states are using to subsidize hiring of the unemployed was also left off the measure, known as a continuing resolution, or "CR," in Washington-speak.

"At the insistence of Republicans, who have refused to consider many important exceptions, we anticipate moving a clean CR that will clear the Senate and the House prior to the end of the fiscal year this Thursday," said Rob Blumenthal, a spokesman for Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye of Hawaii.

"There is very little market for new spending," said Chris Gallegos, spokesman for top panel Republican Thad Cochran of Mississippi.

The measure would fund the government at current levels until early December, with only a few exceptions, such as funding to make sure there's no cutback in the number of flights protected by federal air marshals.

The bill is a reminder of the dismal performance by Congress in doing its most basic job - passing an annual budget and the spending bills for agency operations.

Only two of a dozen annual appropriations bills have passed the House this year and none has passed the Senate as Democratic leaders opted against lengthy floor debates and politically difficult votes on spending.

A stopgap spending bill is required every year to avoid a government shutdown like the partial shutterings in 1994-1995 that cost the Republicans politically. More recently, stopgap measures have been mostly noncontroversial.

But earlier this month, the White House quietly circulated a $20 billion-plus wish list of potential add-ons to the measure, which is the sole remaining must-do piece of legislation before Congress adjourns for the midterm elections. As such, it's a tempting target to help carry unrelated legislation into law.

The administration's list included proposals to provide $1.2 billion to remedy discrimination by the Agriculture Department against black farmers and $3.4 billion to settle claims that the Interior Department mismanaged Indian trust funds.

John Boyd, president of the National Black Farmers Association, said a deal appeared to be in hand, however, on separate legislation funding the black farmers discrimination settlement as well as the American Indian land claims.

The administration also wants to renew parts of last year's economic stimulus measure, including $800 million for child care grants to states and $350 million to process a backlog of claims for Social Security disability benefits.

But the requests were quickly dismissed as inappropriate to be carried on a stopgap funding bill - and unrealistic in the current political environment.

"The Obama list was laughable," said GOP lobbyist Jim Dyer, former staff director of the House Appropriations Committee. "I was delighted to see how fast it got rejected."

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Associated Press Writer Ben Evans contributed to this story.