WASHINGTON — As its last major act before leaving Washington for the fall campaign, the House is voting to put the government on autopilot for six months.
The temporary spending bill is needed to avert a government shutdown when the current budget year expires Sept. 30. At issue are the day-to-day operating budgets of Cabinet agencies that are funded annually by Congress through 12 appropriations bills.
Thursday's vote represents a retreat by tea party House Republicans, since the stopgap measure permits spending at a pace that's $19 billion above the stringent budget plan authored by GOP vice presidential nominee Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin.
Instead, the measure permits spending at the higher budget "caps" permitted under last summer's hard-fought budget and debt deal between President Barack Obama and Capitol Hill Republicans. Typically, short-term spending bills freeze agency budgets at existing levels, but Thursday's measure actually would permit an across-the-board 0.6 percent increase, in keeping with the budget deal. It also maintains spending on domestic programs rather than shifting $8 billion from domestic programs to the Pentagon.
Ryan was scheduled Thursday to make his first appearance at the Capitol since being named to the GOP ticket. He'll vote in favor of the measure.
Even though it abandons the GOP budget, the six-month spending measure has backing from conservatives who want to avoid the prospect of an omnibus spending bill in the postelection lame duck session and who hope to have greater leverage next year.
"If you anticipate being in a better bargaining position in January," said Rep. Scott Garrett, R-N.J., "why go to the bargaining table in December?"
The Senate is expected to easily pass the bill next week and then is likely to exit Washington for the campaign.
The spending measure is the last major piece of pre-election legislation likely to be enacted into law from a Congress that's been mostly gridlocked from the moment it took the oath of office.
The measure would replenish disaster aid coffers, finance the food stamp program after it lapses on Sept. 30 and reauthorize for six months federal grants to states to run their welfare programs.
Just a handful of high-priority programs would be awarded larger increases, including a government cybersecurity initiative, wildfire suppression efforts, a drive to modernize the U.S. nuclear arsenal and processing of veteran disability claims. A popular initiative to repair the dome of the Capitol was left unfunded, however, despite a high-profile push by Senate Democrats.
Appropriations Committee Chairman Harold Rogers, R-Ky., had preferred to do a shorter-term temporary spending bill in hopes of completing the appropriations bills in December as part of a catchall omnibus measure. Instead, the six-month measure means giving up months of work by the Appropriations committees.
"I think it's too bad because that's an awful lot of work that kind of went down the drain," said Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho.
Also Thursday comes a House vote on a curiously-drafted bill that aims to turn off an upcoming round of automatic spending cuts of more than $100 billion set to slam the economy in January as punishment for the failure of last year's deficit "supercommittee" to strike a bargain.
But the measure, the ambitiously titled "National Security and Job Protection Act," would only turn off the automatic cuts if Congress were to enact a separate package of big spending cuts. If Congress were to pass such a bill, of course, lawmakers would use that legislation to block the across-the-board cuts.
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