Senate passes huge spending bill, sends to Obama
By Michael Mathes, AFP
January 18, 2014, 12:00 am TWN
WASHINGTON--Marking a truce after years of fiscal feuding in Washington, Congress passed a US$1.1 trillion spending package Thursday that effectively ended the threat of an election-year government shutdown.
The Senate voted 72 to 26 to approve the massive bill, in a show of bipartisanship after the House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly Wednesday for the measure to fund the federal government through September.
The package now goes to President Barack Obama, who is expected to sign it.
"We're a little late, but we have gotten the job done," said Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski, acknowledging Congress completed the job more than three months into the fiscal year.
All Senate Democrats supported the spending package and conservative opposition cracked, with 17 Republicans voting in favor.
In addition to the discretionary US$1.012 trillion, the measure includes US$92 billion for overseas military operations, mainly the war in Afghanistan, and US$6.5 billion for natural disaster relief.
Passage of the bill "marks a positive step forward for the nation and our economy," the White House's Office of Management and Budget Director Sylvia Burwell said in a statement.
Both parties had plenty to tout in the 1,582-page bill.
Republicans claimed they reined in federal spending for a fourth straight year by freezing new funding for Obama's health care reforms known as Obamacare, reducing foreign aid and cutting money to the Internal Revenue Service and Transportation Security Administration.
Democrats cheered billions of dollars in additional spending for preschool programs like Head Start, border security and the FBI, as well as for expanded medical research.
Senate Democrat Tom Carper said the vote marked "another small step forward" after the landmark compromise reached by the warring sides last month when they agreed to a two-year budget deal.
"I'm hopeful that today's vote signals that manufactured crises, like the harmful October government shutdown that cost our economy US$20 billion, are a thing of past."
Despite the savings trend, overall federal expenditures are set to rise slightly in 2014 as the deal erases automatic spending cuts that were to kick in on January 1 for the next two years.
Several Tea Party-backed lawmakers, including Senators Marco Rubio, Rand Paul and Ted Cruz, voted no because the measure does not slash enough from the nation's US$17.3 trillion debt.
"This omnibus spending deal does a great job of letting Washington grow bigger, more in debt and more dysfunctional for another year, but it's a terrible way to make the American Dream a reality for more Americans," Rubio said.
But the wide bipartisan votes in both chambers dealt a hammer blow against the Tea Party movement that staunchly opposed the bill, and Senate Republicans were able to defuse a threat by Cruz to force a showdown over defunding Obamacare altogether.