WASHINGTON — Congress is poised to fund the government for six weeks to give President Barack Obama and lawmakers more time to work out some $1 trillion of unfinished agency budgets for the fiscal year already days old.
The House planned to vote Tuesday afternoon on the spending bill and send it to Obama ahead of a midnight deadline for a government shutdown.
The vote would give lawmakers additional time for what is sure to be an onerous task: passing the 12 annual spending bills that lay out the day-to-day operating budgets for Cabinet agencies and departments.
The GOP-controlled House, the Democratic-run Senate and the president are in agreement on an overall $1 trillion-plus budget for the government. Still, there's plenty of disagreement over which programs should be increased and which should get cut the deepest.
At the same time, House Republicans are seeking to use the bills to criticize Obama's policies on health care and financial services, environmental regulations and labor rules. GOP lawmakers also are fighting on behalf of conservative social policies such as eliminating federal aid for family planning and barring health care plans for federal workers from covering abortions.
The stopgap measure awaiting a final vote sets a Nov. 18 deadline to wrap up the unfinished spending bills. But it's by no means a sure thing that a bitterly divided Congress and the White House will be able to do so.
GOP leaders will need support from Democrats to counter opposition from about 50 tea party Republicans who have signaled they will oppose the spending legislation required to put in place this summer's budget agreement.
"As far as the spending situation is concerned, many of us feel that we could have done better," said House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va. "But things are what they are in Washington. Republicans control the House, but the Democrats and those of a different opinion control the Senate and the White House."
After passing half of the 12 appropriations bills, House GOP leaders have pulled the plug on floor debates on the rest, apparently because of divisions within the party. The Senate has only passed a single bill, though Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has promised additional action this month on up to three of the measures.1 comment on this story
The likely result is a reprise of this spring's omnibus spending bill. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, was forced to drop numerous policy provisions in late-stage talks with Obama and make concessions to Democrats on spending priorities.
GOP leaders may not be in a rush to seal such an agreement, especially with Congress scheduled to work in December anyway on legislation approved by a special deficit committee that's likely to focus on benefit programs.
The House vote was closing out a battle over whether a portion of relief aid for victims of Hurricane Irene and other natural disasters should have been offset with budget cuts. Lawmakers sidestepped the dispute by dropping $1 billion in disaster relief and accompanying cuts to a loan guarantee program to help automakers retool factories to meet new fuel economy standards.
In the end, the government's main disaster aid account was awarded $2.7 billion through an earlier emergency spending measure, which the administration says is enough to take care of disaster needs over the next few weeks. Several billion dollars more is on the way as part of a final agreement.