The House voted today to pass the continuing resolution and fund the federal government through the end of the fiscal year, making a shutdown later this month doubtful.
The continuing resolution, known around Washington as a CR, is subject to sequestration levels in its entirety, setting the top-line overall rate of spending at $982 billion, down from $1.043 trillion the previous fiscal year.
The vote on the CR passed 267-151 with mostly Republican votes, although once it became clear the bill would pass 53 Democrats decided to join the majority. Fourteen Republicans and 151 Democrats opposed the bill.
“Today, the House has taken the first step towards assuring the American people that the federal government will stay open, which President Obama agrees should be our shared goal,” House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said after the vote. “This legislation is straightforward and reasonable, protecting national defense and helping our veterans while maintaining the president’s sequester, which Republicans continue to support replacing because there are better ways to cut spending.”
The vote was moved up 24 hours because of a snowstorm forecast to strike the Washington metro area today, although the region has mostly dodged the brunt of the blizzard.
The measure kept the FY2012 spending level as a base for 10 out of 12 appropriations bills – but notably, the legislation includes a full-year defense appropriations bill, as well as a full-year military construction/veterans affairs appropriations bill. Those two measures, which were still subject to sequestration, enabled lawmakers to address the funding priorities of an agency rather than relying on existing spending plans that might have become outdated or impractical.
But that added flexibility still did not persuade most House Democrats to support the bill.
“This CR does nothing to address the irrational cuts to defense and non-defense that the sequester will require. It could be very harmful to our economy and to our national security and place the most vulnerable in America at great risk,” said House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md. “I want to vote for appropriations bills that enable us to limit the negative impact of sequestration on our defense community and the most vulnerable in our society, but this CR does not do that. This vote will do nothing to lessen the effects of the sequester.”
Nevertheless, the Senate must pass or amend the bill before March 27, when the current funding runs out, in order to avoid a government shutdown.
“The Senate should pass the House measure without delay so we can continue focusing on helping Americans get back to work and putting the country on a path to a balanced budget,” Boehner said.
“As we try to get our fiscal house in order, it’s important to come together on issues where we can agree – avoiding a government shutdown, providing our people with essential services and supporting our troops and veterans,” said Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Ky., the chairman of the House Appropriations committee. “This bill sets the stage for a meaningful – and needed – discussion on how we can best address our nation’s finances.”
Democrats, however, contend that the Pentagon and Department of Veterans Affairs are not unique to the funding challenges facing Washington. The Democrat-led Senate is now expected to take up the House-passed bill and tweak it before sending it back to the House for further consideration.
Insiders said the Senate could add a couple of its own full appropriations bills to the CR, such as homeland security or agriculture funding bills that were agreed to with broad bipartisan support during negotiations in the last session of Congress even though they did not become law.
The House-passed version of the CR also addressed an apparent need for increased security, identified after the attack in Benghazi, Libya, by including a provision to increase the current level for embassy security by about $2 billion. The CR also provided additional funding for federal prisons and included a provision requiring U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement “to sustain the mandated capacity of 34,000 detention beds.” It also extended the current pay freeze for federal employees, which includes members of Congress and senators, even though President Obama has issued an executive order implementing a 0.5 percent pay increase.
Here is the full list of Republicans who opposed the CR, including five freshmen and three members from the Peach State who could end up competing in a primary for Georgia’s open U.S. Senate seat: