Senate passes spending 'minibus'

The Senate on Tuesday cleared a $182 billion appropriations "minibus" bill on a bipartisan basis after working through a week that included the first detailed debate in the Senate over fiscal 2012 spending levels. 

The legislation, passed  69-30, was the first to emerge from the Senate that includes cuts in discretionary spending that conform to the summer's debt-ceiling deal under which both parties agreed to a cap of $1.043 trillion in discretionary spending for 2012. The measure includes spending for the Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Justice and Transportation, as well as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and federal housing programs for 2012.

To bring the bill up for a passage vote on Tuesday morning, Senate leadership had to negotiate a minefield of dozens of amendments and, on one night, was forced to engage the chamber in a "vote-o-rama" that persisted until after 2 a.m. the following morning. On Tuesday, the bill survived an attempt from Tea Party-affiliated Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) to send it back to committee. 

Funding for the Department of Agriculture and FDA in the Senate bill is set at $20 billion, a slight cut from fiscal 2011. Spending for the Department of Commerce amounted to about $7.7 billion, a slight increase from 2011 levels, while the Department of Justice would be funded at $29.9 billion — a $482 million cut from last year's budget.

The spending measure's fairly easy passage could be seen as an encouraging sign that the upper chamber is capable of cooperating to pass the remaining government spending bills before the current temporary measure funding the government runs out on Nov. 18.  Approving funding, however, for controversial programs in healthcare, financial services and the environment may well prove more contentious and difficult. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has indicated the Senate could take up a similarly structured minibus later this week 

"The experiment we have just done has worked out extremely well," Reid remarked after passage.

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