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Dodging a shutdown at midnight, the House has passed a $915 billion spending bill to pay for core functions of the federal government, including defense, health, environmental programs and financial regulation.
The passage of the massive package of appropriations bills was a rare move toward legislative normalcy and bipartisan cooperation in a divided Congress that has been living in perpetual crisis mode. By paying for operations through September, the bill will get the government off the cycle of short-term funding measures and, for now, take Congress off the cycle of fighting over spending level under perpetual doomsday threats.
The measure passed easily on a bipartisan vote of 296-121.
“This is the end of the road,” said Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers, (R-Ky.) before the vote.
In truth, the end of the road was in sight, but Congress is not there yet. The Senate has not yet scheduled a vote on the bill, although Senate Democrats signed on to the negotiated compromise late Thursday. Democrats had withheld their signatures to gain leverage in negotiations over Congress’ leading yearend priority – extending the payroll tax cut. Those negotiations continued on Friday.
Citing an administration policy, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said the passage of House bill and the agreement with the Senate would essentially stop the countdown toward the midnight deadline. That policy would give the Senate until midnight Saturday to pass the package and send it to the president.
With the passage of the spending package, the government will spend roughly $7 billion less in fiscal year 2012 than it did this year, not including disaster emergency spending. That amounts to a less than a 1% reduction in spending, a far cry from what many of the hard line conservatives in the House had sought.
As outside tea party and small government groups applied pressure, conservatives rebelled in considerable numbers: 86 bucked leaders and voted against the deal.
The bill reflected the compromises for both sides. Democrats succcessfully protected money to use to enact the new healthcare law, a top target of Republicans. But President Obama signature “Race to the Top” education program got a 20% cut.
The Environmental Protection Agency, a top target for Republicans, will receive $233 million less than last year. The agency’s budget has been cut by 18% since Republicans took control of the House in January.
The Education Department is held essentially flat, though the bill makes cost-saving changes to the Pell Grant program. The bill limits the number of grants per student to six and reduces the number of low-income students who automatically receive the maximum grant. The changes will save an estimated $11 billion over the next decade,
The bill includes several policy measures used to appeal to interest groups and key constituencies. It extends for another year a rule prohibiting the District of Columbia from using federal or local money on abortion services. It includes a ban on enforcing new light bulb energy efficiency standards, and blocks some Environmental Protection Agency regulation of greenhouse gases.
The Defense Department budget will increase to $518 billion, a $5 billion raise over last year’s level. That total does not include another $115 billion for the war in Afghanistan and other military operations overseas.