Senate rejects amendments to freeze hiring, add Health and Education appropriations

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The Senate bill, negotiated by Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) and ranking member Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), sets the same spending levels as a government funding measure approved by the House last week. 

But the Senate bill adds three full appropriations measures to the House version. The House bill, H.R. 933, funded Defense, Military Construction and Veterans Affairs programs, while the Senate version adds appropriations for Agriculture, Homeland Security and the Commerce, Justice and Science funds.

Mikulski said she wished she could have included more appropriation bills, such as Health, Education, Labor and Transportation, but that Republicans would not have agreed to it.

Harkin, the chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee on Health and Education issues, said his amendment was based on an agreement his subcommittee and the House counterpart agreed to in December. He said the amendment would maintain current levels of spending but expressed the new funding priorities of Congress.

“I’m not adding any money, but I’m changing some of the accounts to reflect what we decided are bipartisan and bicameral priorities,” Harkin said. “If it’s right for Homeland Security and Agriculture, why shouldn’t the same oversight apply to Health and Human Services?”

Shelby said that the December draft Harkin referred to was never finalized and that House Republican Leaders said Harkin’s amendment would have jeopardize final passage in the House, which is necessary to avoid a government shutdown later this month.

“If this amendment is agreed to, it will undo a very fragile consensus we have built here,” Shelby said ahead of the vote. “I don’t think we should risk funding for the entire government.”

Harkin said his amendment made only two changes to the December agreement — ones that would appeal to the Republicans even more. He said his amendment removed funds for the Affordable Care Act and included an across-the-board cut of .0127 percent in order to comply with sequestration spending levels.

“Some who say, ‘well, if we pass this the House won’t take it,’” Harkin said, “well, I don’t know why — members of the House Appropriations Committee agreed to it in December.

“So I just think it’s incumbent upon us to do our duty to make sure that we look at these programs.”

Mikulski said she wanted to get Harkin’s bill through the Senate, but pointed out that this is not regular order and that if the House and Senate do not agree to a measure by March 27, the government could shut down.

“What we would like to do is return to regular order,” Mikulski said. “We’d like you to be able to bring your bill by itself without this threat of shutdown.”

Coburn said that his amendment would have taken a suggestion from the Office and Management of Budgets to help reduce the number of federal workers furloughed.

“Not hiring four people at FAA would spare 1,000 air traffic controllers from furlough,” Coburn said ahead of the vote. “It’s simply asking the agencies to follow the guidelines that are already out there.

“This isn’t a deal-killer, this is common sense.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has allowed amendment votes to the bill, but says he wants to finish work on the continued spending resolution by the end of the week in order to send it back to the House for a final vote.