Updated: 01/13/2014 4:23 PM
Created: 01/13/2014 2:21 PM KSTP.com
By: Scott Theisen
Top congressional negotiators raced to complete an agreement Monday on a bipartisan $1.1 trillion spending bill that would fund 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.
Leaders of the House and Senate Appropriations committees were trying to finalize the few remaining details and release the measure - likely to exceed 1,000 pages - by late Monday. That would allow House consideration before a short-term spending bill expires at midnight Wednesday evening.
The Senate is expected to take up to three additional days to vote final approval of the measure. To cover that period, lawmakers are expected to approve a short-term spending measure that would prevent a federal shutdown through midnight on Saturday.
Details were closely held under orders from House Appropriations Committee Chairman Harold Rogers, R-Ky., and Senate counterpart Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., who have worked to try to ensure that the measure doesn't topple of its own weight.
To be sure, there is plenty for both parties to oppose in the legislation. Conservatives face a vote to fund implementation of President Barack Obama's health care overhaul and Wall Street regulations, both enacted in 2010 over solid Republican opposition. If history is any guide, conservative provisions on environmental and abortion policy will be tossed overboard.
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.
Liberals are more likely to climb aboard, 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, including a provision exempting disabled veterans from a pension cut enacted last month to help pay for the budget relief in the spending bill. It contains increases for veterans' medical care backed by both sides and fully funds food aid for low-income pregnant women and their children. The National Institutes of Health is sure to fall short of the $31 billion budget it won when Democrats controlled Congress.
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 nearing agreement would spare the Pentagon from $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.
The measure combines the 12 annual appropriations bills into a single measure, a process that invariably draws complaints from lawmakers shut out of its drafting and denied any chance to alter it with amendments. President Ronald Reagan famously dropped one of the huge spending bills on the table during his 1988 State of the Union address and promised a veto if Congress sent him another, sparking a standing ovation by lawmakers.
But the annual appropriations process, which is supposed to dominate House and Senate activity in the summer months, has deteriorated to the point where the current, enormous bill is considered the best Congress can do. It stalled badly in the House this year because GOP leaders shortchanged domestic accounts, while Democratic efforts to fund agencies at pre-sequestration levels were blocked by Republicans.
The measure funds hundreds of agency accounts, ranging from the salaries of 2.7 million civilian federal workers and 1.4 million military personnel to money for education and economic development grants to local governments. It also contains funds to fight the spread of the Asian Carp to the Great Lakes, aid Israel and Egypt, finance law enforcement agencies and the Transportation Security Administration and patrol the U.S.-Mexico border.
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