House advances $1T omnibus bill

Greg Nash

The House voted Wednesday to advance legislation funding $1 trillion in discretionary federal programs for the rest of 2014.

Members voted 230-191 in favor of a rule that allows an hour of debate on the omnibus spending bill. Only three Democrats voted for it, but Democrats typically vote against GOP rules, and most Democrats are expected to support the bill in the final vote later this afternoon.

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The rule vote allowed the House to immediately start debate on the omnibus, and a final vote is expected by late afternoon.

The omnibus bill reflects a massive compromise between the two parties on several policy areas and funds the government according to the budget deal the two parties reached late last year. The biggest immediate consequence of that deal is an increase in total discretionary spending to $1.102 trillion in 2014, up from the planned $986 billion.

That increase will likely help win the support of most Democrats, in addition to the fact that Congress would be at risk of forcing another government shutdown if it fails to approve the bill. Still, Democrats and some Republicans bristled at the prospect of passing such a large bill with just a few days to understand what's in it.

"This can be described very charitably as a mixed bag," said Rep. James McGovern (D-Mass.). "This is a 1,500-page bill that nobody has actually read."

Still, McGovern said he would "reluctantly" support the bill because the alternative is worse. "Yet another Republican shutdown of the government, yet another unnecessary, economically devastating and politically motivated mess," he said.

Other Republicans who are more worried about expanding federal spending were expected to vote against the bill later today. On the House floor, Rep. Tom McClintock (R-Calif.) said he would be voting against the bill because of concerns over the process.

"This is not the regular order promised to the American people, in which each of the 12 appropriations bills is painstakingly vetted," McClintock said. "Regular order would at least give the House a chance to examine and debate these questionable programs before we cast our votes, but not this process."

But these GOP objections were expected to become more pronounced in the final vote. All Republicans voted for the rule, and Republicans typically support the rule for GOP legislation, even if they oppose the bill.

While no one has said the process is ideal, other Republicans defended the omnibus as legislation that continues GOP efforts to rein in spending.

"Since Republicans took control of the House, we've cut discretionary spending four years in a row, the first time since the Korean War that's occurred," Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) said. Cole also noted the bill provides no new funding for ObamaCare and restore $600 million in benefit funding for disabled veterans.

Just before the rule vote, Cole announced a technical change to this language that ensures disabled veterans who don't have 20 years of service get their benefits restored as well. That technical change to the bill was agreed to as part of the rule vote.

Cole also said, given the pinch on discretionary spending programs, Congress next needs to focus on entitlement reform.

"Discretionary spending has paid more than its fair share in dealing with our budget deficit," he said. "Entitlements, such as Medicare and Medicaid spending, and other mandatory programs must be reformed in order to put us on a path to a balanced budget."

The debate was punctuated by several Democratic attempts to immediately bring up a bill extending emergency unemployment benefits. Democrats asked for unanimous consent to bring up the bill, but Republicans did not grant that request.

Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah) also used the debate to win assurances from House GOP leaders that they would quickly look to restore a federal program that helps fund areas of the country with significant federal land ownership. The Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) program is used to offset the reduced tax revenue these areas of the country face due to federal land ownership.

Bishop noted the omnibus bill does not fund PILT, and House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) committed to including new funding in the farm bill that is now the focus of a House-Senate conference committee.