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Averting Government Shutdown, House Quickly OKs Senate’s CR

Mar. 21, 2013 - 12:30PM   |  
By JOHN T. BENNETT   |   Comments
The U.S. Senate on Wednesday afternoon sent over a $982 billion continuing spending resolution with a full-year Pentagon spending bill, the House passed it Thursday morning.
The U.S. Senate on Wednesday afternoon sent over a $982 billion continuing spending resolution with a full-year Pentagon spending bill, the House passed it Thursday morning. (Blair Tomlinson / Staff)
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WASHINGTON — Moving at rocket speed after the U.S. Senate on Wednesday afternoon sent over a $982 billion continuing spending resolution with a full-year Pentagon spending bill, the House passed it Thursday morning.

Sprinting to begin a two-week recess, the House approved the Senate’s version of the CR about 18 hours after the upper chamber did so. The House debated the measure for about an hour — it took the lumbering, contentious Senate over a week to debate and approve the bill.

The House easily approved the measure 318-109. A House aide said 203 Republicans and 115 Democrats supported the government-wide funding bill, which contains a full-year $518.1 billion defense appropriations bill. The aide told reporters 82 Democrats voted against the plan, joined by 27 Republicans.

The bill heads to the president for his signature. He is expected to sign it well before the current CR expires next Wednesday, avoiding a shutdown of the Pentagon and other federal agencies.

Democratic Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Sen. Barbara Mikulski of Maryland decided to tack a handful of agency appropriations bill onto a previously approved House version that contained appropriations bills only for the Defense Department, Department of Veterans Affairs and military construction.

Several times on the Senate floor, Mikulski said she and SAC Ranking Republican Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama, backed by Senate Democratic and Republican leaders, decided the House’s approach was too simplistic. The bill headed to President Barack Obama’s desk essentially is a mini-omnibus appropriations bill.

All other federal agencies will be funded by the true CR portion of the bill, which will fund them at past-year levels.

All the agency appropriations bills attached to the final version of the CR already had been approved by the House and the Senate Appropriations committees. Each had been “pre-conferenced,” meaning House and Senate appropriators and staff had ironed out differences between the chambers’ versions.

In a shift from some major spending legislation passed on Capitol Hill, the CR/mini-omnibus passed both chambers with bipartisan support.

In addition to the House’s bipartisan vote, 24 Republicans joined 54 of the chamber’s 55 Democrats in supporting the bill. (Democratic Sen. Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey did not vote.)

On the Senate floor Wednesday afternoon, just before the chamber approved the bill, Mikulski said lawmakers had pulled off “a great thing” in such a partisan era. Senate Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., also praised the legislation, saying several times this week it’s “the best” it could be under difficult circumstances.

Senior Republicans also lauded its passage.

“Our goal is to cut spending and balance the budget to help our economy grow,” House Speaker Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, said in a statement released shortly after the vote. “Passing this measure allows us to keep our focus where it belongs.”

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Ky., said in a statement that “this legislation provides funding for essential federal programs and services, helps maintain our national security, and takes a potential shutdown off the table.

“I’m proud that we were able to reach across the aisle — and across Capitol Hill — to produce a meaningful, bipartisan bill that funds the government responsibly,” Rogers said. “With the approval of this measure, we have laid the foundation for thoughtful and responsible consideration of Appropriations bills, and can now focus our attention on next year’s work. I encourage the President to sign this bill into law without delay.”

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., told Defense News Wednesday evening the CR process, while bumpy, makes him “hopeful” about the upper chamber’s ability to begin moving spending bills to the floor, debating and amending them, and sending them back to the House — like it did until about four years ago.

The measure, like the House version, leaves in place the twin $500 billion, decade-spanning defense and domestic sequester cuts. But hawkish lawmakers, Pentagon officials and industry executives favor the passage of a full-year DoD appropriations bill because a full spending bill would give the Pentagon more budgetary flexibility than would another CR.

For instance, DoD officials will be able to transfer funds among accounts, which lawmakers and defense officials say will allow them to partially soften the blow sequestration will land on the Pentagon budget in 2013: a $46 billion across-the-board cut.

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