With the sideshow of vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan at the Capitol, casting votes and backslapping with GOP colleagues, the House approved a stopgap spending bill that allows $19 billion more in spending than the budget Ryan himself crafted.
The $1.047 trillion price tag, approved 329 to 91, represented a concession to Democrats by House conservatives, including Ryan, the House Budget Committee chairman. The bill increases spending by $8 billion, which conservatives agreed to on the condition that it would fund the government past the anticipated lame-duck session. They did not want the threat of a government shutdown to become bargaining fodder while Congress addresses the so-called fiscal cliff after the election.
Ryan made no floor statements before voting on the continuing resolution. He arrived at the Capitol about an hour earlier and spent the time meeting House colleagues in a room in the office of Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio. On his short walk to the House floor, Ryan was met with a loud cheer from a gauntlet of lawmakers, including even some polite applause and greetings from Democrats.
Ryan’s departure from the campaign trail provided Democrats the opportunity to highlight some of his controversial budget cuts and other proposals, such as those dealing with Medicare. Snarky comments hailing the “intellectual leader” of House Republicans and a video titled “Welcome Back Mr. Ryan!” courtesy of Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s office greeted his return.
“It’s nice to see Paul Ryan back here in Congress. It will be even nicer to see him back here as a full-time member in January,” remarked Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., from the Senate floor.
Responded Brendan Buck, Ryan’s vice presidential campaign spokesman: “With President Obama's failed leadership leaving us with 43 straight months of unemployment above 8 percent, another trillion-dollar deficit, and looming defense cuts that will devastate our military, do his allies in the Congress have nothing better to do than engage in stale political attacks?”
Aside from the theatrics of a presidential campaign, though, it was perhaps the least dramatic vote this House has taken on a spending bill.
“We have to pass this bill to maintain the continuation of our government,” said a resigned Harold Rogers, R-Ky., House Appropriations Committee chairman. Rogers has made no secret of his disdain for stopgap, catch-all measures.
A continuing resolution was necessary because Congress has not agreed upon any of the 12 annual appropriations bills. But resorting to stopgap bills has become the norm.
The last time Congress passed all the spending bills individually by Oct. 1, much of the country had just watched a white Ford Bronco crawl down the 405 trailed by a fleet of Los Angeles’ finest; Forrest Gump and Pulp Fiction were about to duel it out for the honor of Best Picture; and Ryan was fresh off a job wiping down tables at a Capitol-area eatery, Tortilla Coast.
That was 1994: Democrats approved the fiscal 1995 bills for President Clinton just before the GOP won the majority for the first time in decades. Since then, the process has deteriorated, with the last few years marking a particularly egregious breakdown in regular order.
Congressional leaders brokered this CR deal at the end of July, kicking a multitude of fiscal decisions into next year. For example, new programs or projects—government-wide, including those at the Pentagon—will go unfunded. Similarly, spending cuts or increases to programs, or project terminations and savings, will not go into effect. In addition, there will be no new policy riders.
There were rumblings before the vote that some members might object to the bill on foreign-aid grounds in the wake of the attacks in Libya.
In the end, there was no significant opposition.
The Senate is expected to vote on the measure next Thursday.
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