Spending bill dispute could cause partial government shutdown
WASHINGTON (AP) — House Republicans have unveiled a massive $1 trillion-plus yearend spending package despite a plea from the White House for additional talks over a handful of provisions opposed by President Barack Obama.
The measure unveiled late Wednesday curbs agency budgets but drops many policy provisions sought by GOP conservatives.
But it contains language to roll back Obama administration policies that had loosened restrictions on the rights of Cuban immigrants to send money to relatives in Cuba or travel back to the island to visit them.
Earlier this year, the White House promised a veto over the restrictions on travel and gifts, which are supported by many in the GOP-leaning Cuban-American community, a powerful political force in the swing state of Florida.
The spending measure had been held up by Senate Democrats seeking leverage in talks on extending payroll tax cuts and unemployment insurance — two pillars of Obama's jobs agenda.
But Democratic leverage to stall the massive spending measure seems limited, since it raises the threat of a government shutdown.
Release of the legislation — to meet GOP transparency rules if a vote is to be held Friday — came just a couple of hours after the White House issued a statement saying that Obama "continues to have significant concerns about a number of provisions" in the legislation.
White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer called for another stopgap funding bill to buy time for talks on both the spending bill and the payroll tax measure.
Stopgap funding runs out Friday at midnight.
The underlying bill has bipartisan backing but could encounter turbulence with tea party lawmakers seeking far more significant cuts to government agencies. The measure funds the day-to-day operating budgets of 10 Cabinet departments and programs ranging from border security to flood control to combating AIDS and famine in Africa.
Democrats have yet to officially sign onto the measure, though top lawmakers in the party — including Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii — are on board.
Given White House concerns, changes are still possible before a vote.
On spending, the measure implements this summer's hard-fought budget pact between President Barack Obama and Republican leaders. That deal essentially freezes agency budgets, on average, at levels that were approved back in April for the recently completed budget year.
The bill chips away at the Pentagon budget, foreign aid and environmental spending but boosts funding for veterans programs. The Securities and Exchange Commission, responsible for enforcing new regulations under last year's financial overhaul, won a 10 percent budget increase, even as the tax-collecting IRS absorbs a more than 3 percent cut to its budget.
Popular education initiatives for special-needs children and disadvantaged schools were basically frozen and Obama's cherished "Race to the Top" initiative, which provides grants to better-performing schools, would absorb a more than 20 percent cut.
Environmentalists scored clear wins in stopping virtually every significant GOP initiative to roll back Environmental Protection Agency rules. Most importantly, industry forces seeking to block new greenhouse gas and clean air rules, as well as a new clean water regulation opposed by mountaintop removal mining interests, were denied. But Republicans succeeded in blocking new energy efficiency standards for light bulbs and won delays to a new Labor Department rule requiring a reduction of coal dust responsible for black lung disease.
Drafted behind closed doors, the proposed bill would provide $115 billion for overseas security operations in Afghanistan and Iraq but give the Pentagon just a 1 percent boost in annual spending not directly related to the wars. The Environmental Protection Agency's budget would be cut by 3.5 percent. Foreign aid spending would drop and House lawmakers would absorb a 6 percent cut to their office budgets.
On spending, the measure generally consists of relatively small adjustments to thousands of individual programs. Agencies like the Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement will get a boost within the Homeland Security Department, while GOP defense hawks won additional funding to modernize the U.S. nuclear weapons arsenal. The troubled, over-budget, next-generation F-35 fighter plane program would be largely protected.
Social conservatives won a ban on government-funded abortions in Washington, D.C., and restored a longstanding ban on U.S. funding for needle exchange programs used to prevent the spread of HIV. But efforts to take away federal funding for Planned Parenthood failed, as expected.
To placate conservatives, $8 billion for disaster aid will be addressed in a separate bill, though on a parallel track to the omnibus measure.
It's a sticky issue for conservatives because approving the disaster aid would bring the total amount of money allotted for agency budgets above last year's budgets. By putting the aid in a separate bill, the GOP can lean heavily on Democrats to pass it.