Omnibus Spending Bill Sails Through Senate, Heads to Obama’s Desk

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WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 29: U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) is trailed by reporters while arriving for a markup of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence October 29, 2013 in Washington, DC. The committee is also researching allegations of surveillance related to allied heads of state by the National Security Administration.
National Journal
Sarah Mimms
Jan. 16, 2014, 1:13 p.m.

The Sen­ate over­whelm­ingly passed the 12-part om­ni­bus spend­ing bill 72-26 on Thursday, fund­ing the gov­ern­ment through the end of Septem­ber. The $1.1 tril­lion pack­age sailed through the House on Wed­nes­day and is ex­pec­ted to be signed quickly by Pres­id­ent Obama.

Sig­ni­fic­antly, the bill pre­vents an­oth­er gov­ern­ment shut­down that would have be­gun at mid­night on Sat­urday. It al­loc­ates $1.012 tril­lion in dis­cre­tion­ary fund­ing to vari­ous de­part­ments and agen­cies, while also provid­ing over­seas con­tin­gency fund­ing.

Two of the bill’s lead ne­go­ti­at­ors, Sen­ate Ap­pro­pri­ations Chair­wo­man Bar­bara Mikul­ski and rank­ing mem­ber Richard Shelby, hugged on the Sen­ate floor as the vote wrapped up Thursday night. The two were in­volved in tough ne­go­ti­ations for nearly a month be­fore an­noun­cing the fi­nal om­ni­bus le­gis­la­tion on Monday.

The om­ni­bus faced cri­ti­cism from out­side con­ser­vat­ive groups for fail­ing to fur­ther re­duce fed­er­al spend­ing and for a rushed pro­cess. The fi­nal votes were taken on the bill less than 72 hours after the 1,582-page le­gis­la­tion was ini­tially re­leased to mem­bers.

But with­in the halls of Con­gress, com­plaints about the bill were scarce and of­ten minor. Fol­low­ing last Oc­to­ber’s fisc­al crisis, the ap­pet­ite for an­oth­er fed­er­al shut­down was mea­ger, and ar­gu­ments over ma­jor policy items that could have de­railed the om­ni­bus — in­clud­ing over the Af­ford­able Care Act and abor­tion — were largely left for an­oth­er day.

On Thursday even­ing, 17 Re­pub­lic­ans joined with the en­tire Demo­crat­ic caucus to pass the le­gis­la­tion. An astound­ing 12 Re­pub­lic­an sen­at­ors who sup­por­ted the om­ni­bus had ac­tu­ally voted against the budget agree­ment that set the $1.012 tril­lion top-line num­ber for ap­pro­pri­at­ors last month.

Among the 26 nays on the om­ni­bus — all from Re­pub­lic­ans — Sen­ate Minor­ity Lead­er Mitch Mc­Con­nell of Ken­tucky and Sen. Mike Jo­hanns of Neb­raska are mem­bers of the Ap­pro­pri­ations Com­mit­tee that wrote the bill. Be­fore the vote, Mc­Con­nell strode up to Mikul­ski and vig­or­ously shook her hand, sit­ting down with her for sev­er­al minutes, be­fore vot­ing no on both a mo­tion to pro­ceed to the bill and on the fi­nal vote it­self.

Rep. Jack King­ston, R-Ga., who is locked in a tough Sen­ate primary against two of his House col­leagues, was the only ap­pro­pri­at­or to op­pose the meas­ure in the House.

In the early af­ter­noon Thursday, it ap­peared that a small group of Re­pub­lic­ans might force the Sen­ate to use all the time al­lot­ted un­der the rules between a pro­ced­ur­al vote and fi­nal pas­sage, push­ing a vote un­til Sat­urday.

Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas offered two amend­ments re­lated to de­fund­ing the Af­ford­able Care Act late in the day, but he was re­buffed by Mikul­ski, who ob­jec­ted.

By 4:30 p.m. Thursday, Sen­ate lead­ers on both sides of the aisle agreed to bring up the vote, al­low­ing mem­bers to leave town for the Mar­tin Luth­er King Jr. hol­i­day re­cess a day early. The Sen­ate will re­turn on Jan. 27.

Now that the bill has passed both cham­bers, fed­er­al agen­cies can be­gin the work of sub­tract­ing from their new spend­ing fig­ures the amount of funds they have used since the fisc­al year began in Oc­to­ber. The om­ni­bus af­fects fund­ing for everything from food-safety in­spec­tions and NASA op­er­a­tions to mod­ern­iz­ing Navy ships.

The De­fense De­part­ment faces the most dif­fi­cult task, hav­ing lost bil­lions of dol­lars in fisc­al 2014 from its fisc­al 2013 al­loc­a­tion, though the om­ni­bus does provide more cash for the de­part­ment than it would have had un­der se­quest­ra­tion.

The bill also provides a par­tial fix for the con­tro­ver­sial cuts to mil­it­ary pen­sions that were in­cluded in the Decem­ber budget agree­ment. The om­ni­bus elim­in­ates those cuts for both dis­abled vet­er­ans and for re­cip­i­ents of sur­viv­or’s be­ne­fits.

Sen. Bob Cork­er, R-Tenn., who op­posed the Ry­an-Mur­ray budget in Decem­ber, said he voted against the om­ni­bus be­cause Con­gress had missed an­oth­er op­por­tun­ity to fur­ther cut spend­ing. He also ex­pressed con­cern about bust­ing open the se­quest­ra­tion caps, which were set to take ef­fect this month.

“I’m just so des­pond­ent that, in­stead of build­ing off the gains we made in 2011 with the Budget Con­trol Act, we un­wound it and we still nev­er have ad­dressed the man­dat­ory spend­ing is­sues,” Cork­er said.

Now that Con­gress has ap­proved a two-year budget agree­ment and fun­ded the gov­ern­ment through Oc­to­ber, Cork­er said he wor­ries that Re­pub­lic­ans have lost their lever­age to make big changes to man­dat­ory spend­ing pro­grams, par­tic­u­larly en­ti­tle­ments. “I think the air’s out of the bal­loon on fisc­al is­sues. This today was the” — Cork­er made an ex­plo­sion noise — “cul­min­a­tion of hav­ing no real fo­cus on fisc­al is­sues for some time,” he said.

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