Cheers and applause broke out behind the closed doors of the House Appropriations Committee Wednesday after the House passed a 12-part omnibus spending bill by a vote of 359-67, with an overwhelming majority vote from both parties.
Committee staffers worked through the holidays to put together the omnibus bill, while most members were back in their districts. House Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers, R-Ky., said Wednesday that the staff will have next week off. Call it a belated Christmas miracle.
"I think this portends well for the future," Rogers said of the strong, bipartisan support for the bill. "I think we'll have a restored attitude on the Appropriations Committee about working together and the necessity of doing that. This gets the train back on the track—regular order—and gives us a chance now during this coming year to do things the right way, and that's individual bills."
The legislation is also expected to pass the Senate later this week.
Rogers feels that the House vote reflects not just a renewed interest in returning to regular order and upholding the Appropriations process, but a change in the mood of the House in general toward greater bipartisanship. "I really believe that this has set a tone that will last, as we needed," he said.
The bill comes on the heels of another bipartisan agreement in the House over the December budget deal between Rep. Paul Ryan and Sen. Patty Murray. In fact, the omnibus earned a larger majority than did the December budget agreement, with 64 Republicans and just three Democrats—Reps. Mike McIntyre of North Carolina, Raul Grijalva of Arizona, and Rush Holt of New Jersey—opposing the measure.
Like the Ryan-Murray bill, the omnibus package drew the overwhelming opposition of conservative special-interest groups. Both measures earned the votes of a majority of House Republicans, including many conservative votes, a sign of the loosening grip those outside groups hold on the Republican conference.
Many of the Republicans voting nay also opposed the Ryan-Murray budget deal, calling its $1.012 trillion spending level too high.
Oddly, six of the conservative members who opposed the budget agreement last month voted in favor of the omnibus—which allocates those funds at the program and department level. They are: Reps. Trey Gowdy and Mick Mulvaney of South Carolina, Andy Harris of Maryland, Joe Heck of Nevada, David McKinley of West Virginia, and Daniel Webster of Florida.
Mulvaney had said Tuesday that he would oppose the omnibus and predicted that none of his fellow nay votes on the budget agreement would support the omnibus either. "I'm voting no for it, anyway," he said then. "… I don't know how you voted no last month and would vote yes today."
But Mulvaney said in a statement Wednesday that he supported the bill because it cuts discretionary spending—when adjusted for inflation—below 2008 levels, something he promised his constituents during his first campaign. His office did not respond when asked for comment about the evolution in his stance between Tuesday and Wednesday.
Meanwhile, Heck said he was disappointed that the omnibus did not cut more spending, but that he supported the measure because it includes a fix for pension cuts to disabled veterans that were included in the original budget agreement.
The Wednesday vote came just 44 hours after the massive 1,582-page omnibus was released Monday evening, giving lawmakers little time to read the bill before it hit the House floor. Members and their staffs would have had to read more than 1.6 pages every minute, without sleeping, to have finished reading the document ahead of Wednesday's vote.
Senators will have a few more hours to look over the omnibus, but not many. By an 86-14 vote Wednesday, the Senate passed a short-term continuing resolution that will give the upper chamber until midnight Saturday night to pass the omnibus before the current funding mechanism expires.
That vote could come as early as Thursday or as late as Saturday evening, depending on whether Republicans insist on using all of the debate time available to them, according to a senior Senate Democratic aide.
Senate Appropriations ranking member Richard Shelby, R-Ala., said Wednesday before the House vote that he expects to see large, bipartisan support for the omnibus in the Senate as well. "I think we're going to have a big vote. … I believe we're going to have a healthy number. ... I haven't felt the crystallizing of a lot of opposition," he said.
"We all would like to get out as soon as we could, if we could vote. But if other people have other ideas—you know, delay, delay"—then the process could drag out, Shelby said. He added, however, that he is hopeful the omnibus will pass the Senate by Friday.
Once it clears the Senate, the legislation will keep the government funded through the end of September and prevent a shutdown this weekend. Affected departments and agencies will have to subtract their total spending so far in fiscal 2014—which began on Oct. 1—from the top-lines in the omnibus, before writing their budgets for the remainder of the year.
This article appears in the January 16, 2014 edition of NJ Daily.