‘We proved we can get complicated, hard things done,’ said Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.). | AP Photo
Congress approved and sent to the White House on Thursday a stopgap spending bill to avert any threat of a government shutdown next week and keep agencies funded through September in the wake of automatic cuts ordered under sequestration.
Final passage came on a 318-109 vote in the House, as top Republicans opted to embrace significant changes approved by the Senate on Wednesday rather than risk further delay.
The quick action is a major breakthrough for the bipartisan leadership of the House and Senate Appropriations committees, which found themselves kicked to the curb in the previous Congress as the entire budget process collapsed under the pressure of the 2012 elections.
The measure replaces the current continuing resolution with a much more updated alignment of appropriations for the last six months of the fiscal year. Overshadowed by the partisan fight now over taxes and entitlements, it redefines the landscape for sequestration and is the closest thing to a real budget that Congress will have produced for the current fiscal year ending Sept. 30.
“We proved we can get complicated hard things done and that’s what this bill does,” said House Appropriations Committee Hal Rogers (R-Ky.). Despite harsh criticism from old friends on the left, New York Rep. Nita Lowey, the committee’ top Democrat, gave her support in what amounted to a pledge of good faith with the changes made by the Senate.
“Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman [Barbara] Mikulski and I were in constant contact throughout the negotiations,” Lowey told her party. “And I am satisfied that she got the best deal she could at this time.”
The biggest dollar impact will be at the Pentagon, where billions are moved about to help the military services cope with depleted operations accounts. But on the nondefense side of the budget, the bill makes scores of changes as well, including new initiatives that run from investments in a polar icebreaker and cybersecurity to aid to Syrian rebels and improved embassy security overseas.
Powerful interests rode this same train, even as President Barack Obama paid a price for his diffidence toward the appropriations process.
The White House failed to get added money it wanted to implement health care and Wall Street reforms. At the same time, Monsanto, large meat packers and pro-gun forces — with strong Republican help — won special interest legislative provisions attached to the package, which fills close to 600 pages.
Most important for many liberal Democrats, the bill leaves in place the machinery of sequestration that took effect March 1. Indeed, the $1.043 trillion allocated across the government in the bill is closer to $984 billion once those cuts are factored into the equation.
Taking the floor after Lowey, a longtime ally, had spoken, Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) emotionally appealed to Democrats to do the opposite of what Lowey recommended and vote no in a last stand against sequestration.
“You don’t have to support this resolution and sequestration to avoid a shutdown,” DeLauro said, and then went on to recite a checklist of the consequences of the automatic cuts. “If you vote for this resolution you are voting to undermine the Affordable Care Act. … You are voting to cut $400 million from Head Start. …”
Most significantly, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), a veteran of the Appropriations panel like her friends Lowey and DeLauro, came down on the New Yorker’s side in this fight. And as a party, Democrats split 115-82 for the package — more than enough to overcome the relatively modest defections Rogers faced on his side of the aisle.