House approves $1 trillion omnibus spending bill in easy 296-121 vote

The House easily approved a $1 trillion omnibus Friday, sending the bill to a Senate for a likely weekend vote. 

Senate passage would send the bill to the White House and avert a government shutdown, but won't end Congress's business for the year. Lawmakers are expected to return to Washington next week to complete work on an extension of a payroll tax cut. 

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Despite the frictions between the two parties throughout the week, the bill was approved in an overwhelming 296-121 vote. Thirty-five Democrats and 86 Republicans voted against it. More Democrats (149) voted for the package than Republicans (147). 

The bill, H.R. 2055, covers spending for Defense, Energy and Water, Financial Services and General Government, Homeland Security, Interior, Labor/Health and Human Services, Legislative Branch, Military Construction/VA, and State/Foreign Operations.

Broad support for the bill among Democrats in large part reflected the reality that without passage, the government would shut down at midnight Friday. Several Democrats grumbled about the process for considering the bill in early in floor debate, but House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) called on all his colleagues to support it, even though few, if any, have read it.

"I rise in strong support of this bill, and I urge my colleagues to support this piece of legislation," Hoyer said. "None of them have read it."


Democratic subcommittee chairmen also seemed happy with the bill, and said it reflects a level of bipartisanship rarely seen on other committees. Helping the bipartisanship along was a decision to strip language that would have tightened rules on family travel to Cuba, a change Democrats pressed for and won.

But they failed to get rid of other policy riders, such as language that defunds light bulb efficiency standards and bans the use of District of Columbia funds for abortion. Democrats blamed the last-minute vote on the bill on these riders.

"We know this could have been done much sooner, but there were five riders that had to be resolved, everything from the reproductive rights of citizens of the District of Columbia to energy-saving light bulbs," Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) said. "This house has spent more time debating light bulbs than we have putting American people to work. It's really been an outrage."

Republicans rejected that assertion, and blamed the Senate for delaying consideration of the spending bill earlier in the week in a bid to gain leverage in the separate fight over the payroll tax holiday extension.

House Republicans had threatened to pass a similar version of the omnibus on their own if Democrats continued to hold up the bill. But with most Democrats voting in favor on Friday, conservatives and many members of the Tea Party-infused freshman class took the opportunity to vote no. The ‘no’ votes included two freshman members of the leadership team, Reps. Tim Scott (S.C) and Kristi Noem (S.D.).

GOP leadership aides insisted Republicans would have been able to pass the bill without much Democratic support in what one described as “a show of unity.”

“We were prepared to pass it on our own,” an aide said.

Because of the bipartisan vote, many freshmen will be able to return to their districts boasting that they opposed a $1 trillion, 1,200-page spending bill that few members could claim to have read in full.

Conservatives had wanted overall spending levels for 2012 to reflect what the House had approved in the GOP budget resolution, not the higher number agreed to in the bipartisan debt limit deal this summer.

Rep. Austin Scott (R-Ga.), the president of the GOP freshman class, voted against the debt limit deal but for the spending bill on Friday.

“Certainly nothing we do is going to be perfect, but I wanted to get out of the continuing resolution process,” he said, referring to the series of stopgap funding measures that have kept the federal government operating for more than a year. “Given the choice, I would have preferred a lower [spending] number,” he said.

The Senate could take up the bill as early as Friday or on Saturday. A Senate vote on Saturday was not expected to cause a government shutdown. However, the House also approved two other resolutions to avoid any chance of a shutdown — one funds the government for another day, through midnight Saturday, and the second funds the government through December 23.

The latter resolution will give Congress time to compile the omnibus package for President Obama's signature. Both were approved by voice vote.

The House also approved two bills related to the appropriations package. One of them, H.R. 3672, provides for $8.1 billion in disaster relief funding, $6.4 billion of which would go to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

That bill passed 351-67. Only one Democrat voted against this bill, along with 66 Republicans who opposed the additional spending.

Member also approved H.Con.Res. 94, which amends the emergency relief bill by making an across-the-board 1.83 percent cut to most discretionary spending accounts in 2012. The only exceptions to this cut are the Department of Defense and Military Construction/Veterans Affairs.

This resolution was approved 255-165 that saw only 21 Democrats vote with Republicans, reflecting their opposition to further cuts.

— This story was posted at 1:34 p.m. and last updated at 3:34 p.m.