Huge spending bill would bury budget battles
AP Photo WX111, WX112
Eds: Updates with new photos. With AP Photos.
By ANDREW TAYLOR
WASHINGTON (AP) — Top congressional negotiators Monday night released a bipartisan $1.1 trillion spending bill that would pay for the operations of government through October and finally put to rest the bitter budget battles of last year.
The massive measure fleshes out the details of the budget deal that Congress passed last month. That pact gave relatively modest relief to the Pentagon and domestic agencies from the deep budget cuts they would otherwise face.
The bill would avert spending cuts that threatened construction of new aircraft carriers and next-generation Joint Strike Fighters. It maintains rent subsidies for the poor, awards federal civilian and military workers a 1 percent raise and beefs up security at U.S. embassies across the globe. The Obama administration would be denied money to meet its full commitments to the International Monetary Fund but get much of the money it wanted to pay for implementation of the new health care law and the 2010 overhaul of financial regulations.
The 1,582-page bill was released after weeks of negotiations between House Appropriations Committee Chairman Harold Rogers, R-Ky., and Senate counterpart Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., who kept a tight lid on the details until its release late Monday. “This agreement shows the American people that we can compromise, and that we can govern,” Mikulski said. “It puts an end to shutdown, slowdown, slamdown politics.”
The GOP-led House is slated to vote on the measure Wednesday, less than 48 hours after it became public. In their campaign to take over the House in 2010, Republicans promised a 72-hour review period. On Tuesday, the House is slated to approve a short-term funding bill to extend the Senate’s deadline to finish the overall spending bill until midnight on Saturday. The current short-term spending bill expires at midnight Wednesday evening.
The measure doesn’t contain major victories for either side. The primary achievement was that there was an agreement in the first place after the collapse of the budget process last year, followed by a 16-day government shutdown and another brush with a disastrous first-ever default on U.S. obligations. After the shutdown and debt crisis last fall, House Budget committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Senate Budget Committee Chairman Patty Murray, D-Wash., struck an agreement to avoid a repeat of the 5 percent cut applied to domestic agencies last year and to prevent the Pentagon from absorbing about $20 billion in new cuts on top of the ones that hit it last year.
To be sure, there is plenty for both parties to oppose in the legislation. Conservatives face a vote to finance implementation of President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul and Wall Street regulations, both enacted in 2010 over solid Republican opposition. A conservative-backed initiative to block the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gas emissions was dumped overboard and social conservatives failed to win new restrictions on abortion.
But conservatives can take heart that overall spending for daily agency operations has been cut by $79 billion, or 7 percent, from the high-water mark established by Democrats in 2010. That cut increases to $165 billion, or 13 percent, when cuts in war funding and disaster spending are accounted for. Money for Obama’s high-speed rail program would be cut off, and rules restricting the sale of less efficient incandescent light bulbs would be blocked.
Democrats are more likely to climb aboard than tea party Republicans, but only after voting to give Obama about $6 billion more in Pentagon war funding than the $79 billion he requested. The additional war money is helping the Pentagon deal with a cash crunch in troop readiness accounts. Including foreign aid related to overseas security operations, total war funding reaches $92 billion, a slight cut from last year.
The alternative, however, is to allow automatic spending cuts to strike for a second year and even risk another government shutdown if Congress deadlocks.
At the same time, the bill is laced with sweeteners. One is a provision exempting disabled veterans from a pension cut enacted last month. The bill contains increases for veterans’ medical care backed by both sides and fully funds the $6.7 billion budget for food aid for low-income pregnant women and their children. Yet the National Institutes of Health’s proposed budget of $29.9 billion falls short of the $31 billion budget it won when Democrats controlled Congress. Democrats won a $100 million increase, to $600 million, for so-called TIGER grants for high-priority transportation infrastructure projects, a program that started with the 2009 stimulus bill.
The Internal Revenue Service budget was frozen at last year’s post-sequester levels, as was the Transportation Security Administration. But Interior Department firefighting accounts won a major boost, more than 10 percent. A key State Department economic aid program absorbed an almost one-quarter cut from levels passed last March.
Overall, the measure keeps funding for day-to-day domestic agency budgets at levels agreed to last year before cuts of 5 percent were applied to every account. Those broadly applied cuts, called sequestration, were required because of Washington’s inability to follow up a 2011 budget deal with additional deficit savings.
The spending bill approaching agreement would spare the Pentagon from a brutal second-wave cut of $20 billion in additional reductions on top of last year’s $34 billion sequestration cut, which forced furloughs of civilian employees and harmed training and readiness accounts.
Consistent with recent defense measures, the bill largely fulfills the Pentagon’s request for ships, aircraft, tanks, helicopters and other war-fighting equipment, including 29 new F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, eight new warships as requested by the Navy, and a variety of other aircraft like the V-22 Osprey, new and improved F-18 fighters and new Army helicopters.
It also boosts funding by nearly $200 million for the joint U.S.-Israeli missile defense program known as David’s Sling and Iron Dome. Israel’s Iron Dome system is designed to intercept short-range rockets and mortars, and Congress repeatedly increases the amount of money for the program beyond an administration request.
Key accounts like Title I education aid to schools with many low-income student and heating aid for the poor are basically treading water at levels that restore the sequestration cuts from last year. The FBI would get an almost 3 percent increase on top of restoring last year’s cut, but Community Development Block Grants popular with state and local officials in both parties took a significant hit.
Huge spending bill would bury budget battles
- National and world
U.S. warns against traveling to Ebola-hit countries
“The bottom line is Ebola is worsening in West Africa,” said Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who announced the travel warning.
Gaza truce comes after days of pushing for a deal
Finally, less than an hour after all sides signed off on the precise and technical wording for a 72-hour truce, Kerry issued a statement and called a 3:30 a.m. Friday press conference to seal the deal before any party could back out.
Gas explosions kill 24, injure 271 in Taiwan
The fires were believed caused by a leak of propene, a petrochemical material not intended for public use, but the source of the gas was not immediately clear, officials said.
Congress races to finish VA, highway bills
House Speaker John Boehner accused Democrats of pursuing a “nutso scheme” of trying to seize on the border crisis to try and grant a path to citizenship to millions of immigrants living in the country illegally.
As U.S. job market strengthens, many don't feel it
"If the economy is getting better, I'm not sure for whom. It certainly hasn't trickled down to me." — Douglas Hunter, who earned $14 an hour before the Great Recession and now works three days a week for $9.25 an hour, mopping floors and fixing fryers at McDonald's.
Republican-led House approves lawsuit against President Obama
Just a day before lawmakers were to begin a five-week summer recess, debate over the proposed lawsuit underscored the harshly partisan tone that has dominated the current Congress almost from its start in January 2013.
Sanctions could damage Russia
The sanctions go further than earlier penalties — which had largely targeted individuals — by broadly limiting the trade of weapons and of technology that can be used in the oil and military industries. The EU also put its capital markets off-limits to Russian state-owned banks.
Thousands flee to Tunisia to escape Libya fighting
Many diplomats, including the U.S. ambassador, have pulled out of the country. With the interim government paralyzed, the fighting threatens the planned opening session of the newly elected parliament on Aug. 4.
Cinema verite documentarian Robert Drew dies
Starting in 1960 with “Primary,” Drew produced and sometimes directed a series of television documentaries that took advantage of such innovations as light hand-held cameras that recorded sound and pictures.
GOP-led House approves lawsuit against Obama
The suit will contend that Obama has exceeded his constitutional powers in the way he has enforced the 2010 health care law.
- More National and world Headlines
- U.S. warns against traveling to Ebola-hit countries