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Senate moves spending bill to Obama's desk

April 14, 2011|By Kathleen Hennessey, Washington Bureau
  • Democratic senators arrive Thursday for a news conference in the Capitol before approving a bill to keep the government funded for the rest of the fiscal year.
Democratic senators arrive Thursday for a news conference in the Capitol… (Evan Vucci / Associated…)

The Senate voted overwhelmingly to pass legislation funding the federal government for the remainder of the 2011 fiscal year, hours after the House also endorsed the spending plan.

President Obama is expected to sign the measure, the product of Friday’s eleventh-hour compromise that averted what would have been the first government shutdown in 15 years.

The vote in the Senate was 81-19, with dissenting votes mostly coming from more conservative Republicans.

Republican leaders nonetheless proclaimed victory.

“We’ve had a sea change here in Washington,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said before the vote. “Now, everyone claims to see the crises we face— even those who’ve done so much to create them, and who’ve tried for too long to ignore them.”

Earlier, the Senate also rejected separate measures to defund Planned Parenthood and Obama’s health reform law. The additional votes were part of the compromise that kept the federal government running.

The vote in the House was less of a sure thing, passing 260-167. The debate put a bright spotlight on the divisions among Republicans between those who wanted to push for more dramatic reductions in spending and those willing to sign on to a compromise forged last week.

Democratic votes were needed to push the legislation through the House, where 59 Republicans voted against the bill.

The legislation would make cuts of nearly $38 billion from the 2011 spending plan, $23 billion less than House Republicans had sought.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), who negotiated the deal with Senate Democrats and the White House, made his final pitch Thursday afternoon.

"Does it cut enough? No," Boehner said on the House floor. "Is it perfect? No. I'd be the first one to admit that it's flawed. Well, welcome to divided government."

The vote was an agonizing one for many lawmakers – particularly the 87 GOP freshmen – who made slashing federal spending the cornerstone of their campaigns. Some said they were struggling with how to vote right up to the last hour.

Complicating the decision, an independent analysis released Wednesday indicated that the bill's immediate effect on the amount the government will spend in 2011 would be minimal. Much of the $38 billion in reductions would come over time or from standing accounts.

Boehner and other House leaders scrambled to explain the report's finding, hoping to stave off a backlash from conservatives labeling the deal a gimmick.

"I just think it's total nonsense," Boehner said. "A cut is a cut."

The vote comes on the 100th day of Republican control of the House, and several lawmakers celebrated the GOP's success in shifting the conversation to shrinking the size and scope of federal services.

One newcomer, though, explained the pressures leading to a vote against his party leadership.

"I think this was positive step, it just didn't go far enough fast enough," said Rep. Bill Huizenga, a freshman Republican from Michigan. Huizenga held two telephone town halls this week to gauge opinion in his district and views were split, he said. But the overwhelming message was to roll back federal spending.  

"Michigan has just been hammered over the last 10 years and people are expecting -- just like they've seen their family income and family budgets adjust dramatically and they've seen their employer's budget adjust dramatically -- they're expecting the same thing out of government," he said. 

The bill includes a $500-million reduction in funding for the federal health and nutrition program for women, infants and children, known as WIC. The Environmental Protection Agency will see a 16% reduction from current spending levels. Community health centers will lose $600 million.

But the budget agreement includes several provisions not aimed at deficit reduction. It removes gray wolves from the endangered species list and eliminates funding for four Obama administration policy "czars." The bill reinstates a school voucher program in Washington, D.C., and specifically prohibits local government dollars in the District of Columbia from paying for abortions.

kathleen.hennessey@latimes.com

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