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House-Senate negotiators unveil spending bill

By Andrew Taylor

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, Nov. 15 2011 3:31 p.m. MST

The United States Capitol building, Tuesday, July 26, 2011, in Washington.

Associated Press

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WASHINGTON — House and Senate negotiators have agreed on a bundle of spending measures for the ongoing budget year, blending cuts to NASA and community development programs while averting cuts to nutrition programs.

The approximately $182 billion measure announced late Monday would fund day-to-day operations at the departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Justice, Transportation and Housing and Urban Development, as well as the space program.

It also contains stopgap spending legislation to keep the government running until Dec. 16 and buy lawmakers more time for a raft of other spending bills, but many of those measures are freighted with controversy. Without the stopgap measure, the government would partially shut down this weekend.

Lawmakers face a midnight Friday deadline to act on the measure. House and Senate leaders promised votes this week.

The legislation would represent the first concrete step to implement a contentious budget pact sealed by President Barack Obama and congressional Republicans this summer. The deal traded a $2 trillion-plus increase in the government's ability to borrow to meet its obligations for promises of future budget cuts.

The legislation represents a hard-fought bargain between the GOP-controlled House and the Democratic Senate by the powerful Appropriations committees. But it's sure to run into opposition from tea party Republicans who want deeper cuts.

"We've cut total discretionary spending for the second year in a row — a remarkable achievement that will save taxpayers billions of dollars and help get our nation's budget back into balance," said House Appropriations Committee Chairman Harold Rogers, R-Ky.

It comes as a congressional debt-reduction supercommittee is wrestling over cuts to benefit programs like Medicare and farm subsidies, whose budgets essentially run on autopilot and aren't funded year to year.

Congress has yet to complete action on a single spending measure for the 2012 budget year, which started more than a month ago.

The August budget agreement set a $1.043 trillion "cap" on agency operating levels, about a $7 billion cut — less than 1 percent — from prior-year levels. But the budget pact also permits more than $11 billion in additional spending for natural disasters, which means the current crop of spending bills will ultimately exceed the cost of the last round — a sore point with tea party conservatives already unhappy with the GOP's efforts to cut spending.

"Nobody got everything they wanted but common ground has been found," said Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Wash. "The conference agreement restores funding to many programs and agencies House Republicans proposed eliminating or inadequately funding. Funding for law enforcement, food safety, nutrition, science research, transportation and housing have been given acceptable appropriations."

The measure contains $2.3 billion for disaster aid, much of it to rebuild roads and bridges destroyed by this year's floods in the Northeast and Midwest. A later bill would provide the Federal Emergency Management Agency with several billion dollars more.

An earlier omnibus spending measure enacted in April covered the 2011 budget year that ended Sept. 30. It cut spending below 2010 levels set by a Democratic-controlled Congress by about $40 billion.

The range of spending covered by Monday's measure includes community development grants, Amtrak operating subsidies, funding for private sector space flight and the FBI. Still to come is legislation funding the Pentagon, homeland security and a variety of other agencies. Future bills will prove more difficult to negotiate as rival Democrats and Republicans have to sort through dozens of controversies involving flashpoints like environmental policy and abortion.

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