House advances 2013 spending bill over opposition from Dems and 16 Republicans

The vote came after a debate in which Democrats blasted the bill for locking in the $85 billion sequester that took effect on Friday. The bill sets spending levels for all agencies for the rest of 2013, and says these levels are subject to the sequester, which will create a total discretionary spending level of about $984 billion.

The bill also gives the Defense Department flexibility to deal with the sequester, by shifting $10 billion to DOD's operations and maintenance budget. Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) said he reads that as a sign that Republicans will allow the sequester to take full effect over the next six months.

"The Department of Defense and the VA are given some flexibility to deal with the devastating sequestration cuts, but no other agency is given that tool," McGovern said. "This is clearly, in my opinion, a tacit statement by the majority that they are going to keep this harmful sequester, one of the stupidest things ever to come out of Congress."

Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) replied that Republicans will allow the sequester to happen, but that Republicans remain open to renegotiating the cuts.

"Let me assure him of this: These are cuts and they are going to occur," Cole said to McGovern. "But we've repeatedly told our friends and the president and the Senate that we would be more than happy to redistribute where the cuts are going to occur."

That back-and-forth, in a nutshell, explains why Congress has gotten nowhere trying to replace the sequester cuts — Republicans are insisting on $85 billion in cuts, while Democrats have proposed a small cut and new tax hikes.

McGovern and other Democrats reiterated their complaint that House Republicans have not brought up any bill of their own to replace the sequester, which will lead to cuts to a wide array of federal services. But Cole said when the House passed a replacement bill twice last year, Democrats ignored it.

"We did that twice, in May of last year and December of last year after the election, in good faith," Cole said. "In neither case did the Senate pick that up or the White House respond with a serious offer.

"Now my friend is asking us to do it for a third time in the hopes that it will be different."

Cole used the debate to praise GOP leaders for bringing forward a bill that will avoid any threat of a government shutdown.

"It seems that over the past year, we've moved from fiscal crisis to fiscal crisis," he said. "Thanks to the leadership of [House Appropriations Committee] Chairman [Hal] Rogers (R-Ky.) and [House Rules Committee] Chairman [Pete] Sessions (R-Texas), we're able to consider funding the federal government through the end of the fiscal year at this point, avoiding the threat of a government shutdown."

The continuing resolution sets funding for all agencies at levels consistent with the 2011 Budget Control Act, and with the sequester. It funds the Defense Department's non-war budget at $518 billion, the same as last year's level.

In other areas, it prohibits funding for transfers to Guantanamo detainees to the United States, allows additional funds for nuclear weapons modernization efforts, lets Customs and Border Protection and FBI to maintain current staff levels, extends the pay freeze for federal workers, including members of Congress, calls for a study of embassy security, and requires all federal agencies to provide spending plans to Congress.

Just before the rule vote, the House turned away a Democratic effort to take up language mitigating the effects of the sequester.

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