Senate Easily Passes $1.1 Trillion Spending Bill

WASHINGTON (AP) -

Congress sent President Obama a $1.1 trillion spending bill Thursday, easing the harshest effects of last year’s automatic budget cuts.

The Senate voted 72-26 for the measure, which cleared the House a little more than 24 hours earlier. Obama’s signature on the bill was expected in time to prevent any interruption in government funding midnight Saturday.

The huge bill funds every agency of government, pairing increases for NASA and Army Corps of Engineers construction projects with cuts to the Internal Revenue Service and foreign aid. It pays for implementation of Obama’s health care law. Also included is funding for tighter regulations on financial markets.

The compromise-laden legislation reflects the realities of divided power in Washington and a desire by both Democrats and Republicans for an election-year respite after three years of budget wars that had Congress and the White House lurching from crisis to crisis. All 53 Democrats, two independents and 17 Republicans voted for the bill; the 26 votes against it were Republican.

Shortly before the final vote, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) delivered a slashing attack on Senate Democrats, accusing them of ignoring the problems caused by the health care law. “It is abundantly clear that millions of Americans are being harmed right now by this failed law,” Cruz said.

The 1582-page bill was really 12 bills in one. Rep. Harold Rogers, (R-Ky.) and Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), respective chairmen of the House and Senate Appropriations committees, and their subcommittee lieutenants spent weeks hashing out line-by-line details of a broad two-year budget accord passed in December, the first since 2009.

The bill increases spending by about $26 billion over fiscal 2013, with most of the increase going to domestic programs.

The nuts-and-bolts culture of the appropriators is evident in the bill. Lower costs to replace screening equipment allowed for a cut to the TSA. Lawmakers blocked the USDA from closing six research facilities. The EPA is barred from issuing rules on methane emissions from large livestock operations. Another provision exempts disabled veterans and surviving military spouses from a pension cut.

The National Institutes of Health’s proposed budget of $29.9 billion falls short of the $31 billion budget it won when Democrats controlled Congress. There is a $100 million increase for grants for high-priority transportation infrastructure projects.

Civilian federal workers would get their first pay hike in four years. An additional $1 billion over last year was added to the Head Start early childhood program. A host of conservative policy “riders” were rejected.

Rogers won two provisions backed by the coal industry. One would block the EPA and Corps of Engineers from working on new rules on “fill material” related to the mountain top removal mining. Another would keep the door open for Export-Import Bank financing of coal power plants overseas.