House OKs spending bill — first of the year

The House on Thursday approved the first appropriations bill of the year, a measure that spends $51 billion on the Departments of Commerce and Justice, NASA and other related agencies.

The spending bill, H.R. 5326, was approved in a 247-163 vote in which eight Republicans voted against it, reflecting opposition to the amount spent in the bill. But it also picked up the support of 23 Democrats.

Republicans voting against the bill were Reps. Justin Amash (Mich.), Paul Broun (Ga.), John Campbell (Calif.), John Duncan (Tenn.), Jeff Flake (Ariz.), Trent Franks (Ariz.), Cynthia Lummis (Wyo.), and Tom McClintock (Calif.).

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The bill is among the least controversial of the 12 annual appropriations bills but has little chance of becoming law on its own. The White House has said President Obama will veto any and all of the 12 bills until the House renounces the top-line spending level in the overall budget written by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.).

The legislation cuts spending by about 3 percent compared to current levels, which Republicans said shows their ongoing commitment to trim spending. The GOP said spending by agencies covered by the bill has been cut by 20 percent over the last three budget cycles.

But similar to last year, Republicans were often split over proposals to cut further. During amendment debate, younger Republicans — including some associated with the Tea Party movement — offered amendments that would have chopped at least $3.5 billion more, but nearly all of them were defeated with the help of senior Republicans.

Among these were proposals to cut $1.2 billion from the National Science Foundation, and several amendments to cut all salaries and administrative expenses by an additional amount.

While Republicans split on these ideas, they came together in support of several funding limitations, particularly those that limited the authority of the Justice Department and Attorney General Eric Holder.

One of the more controversial amendments added to the bill would prevent Justice from using taxpayer funds to lie to Congress. That language, from Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), was a reaction to GOP arguments that Justice lied to Congress about its involvement in a gun-walking program that allowed weapons to leave the United States, one of which was later used to kill a U.S. border patrol agent.

Chaffetz said during debate that Justice's purposeful decision not to tell Congress the truth about the "Fast and Furious" program was "wholly unacceptable," and his amendment was passed easily 381-41 with the support of 142 Democrats.

The House also voted to cut $1 million from the Justice Department in retaliation for the department's failure to come clean about Fast and Furious.

Additionally, members approved amendments preventing Justice from defending the 2010 healthcare law, suing states with voter ID laws and taking action against state immigration laws.

Erik Wasson contributed to this report.

Updated at 3:49 p.m.