By Erik Wasson
The Senate voted, 79-16, Tuesday to approve a continuing resolution to fund the government through March 4.
The bill now heads to the House where a vote is expected before the current continuing resolution expires at midnight.
The Senate-approved, 36-page resolution provides a small increase of $1.16 billion over the spending levels of 2010, according to a Senate Appropriations Committee summary.
The measure represents a major victory for Republicans, who successfully forced Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to abandon a plan to pass an omnibus 2011 appropriations bill late last week.
That means the GOP will have a chance to make deep cuts to 2011 spending levels — starting in March — if the House approves the resolution, which it is expected to do.
Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), before the vote, said on the floor that the GOP should expect a pitched battle before March if it tries, as House Speaker-designate John Boehner (R-Ohio) has vowed, to cut $100 billion from non-security discretionary spending in fiscal 2011.
"I hope we can agree on a bipartisan basis not to decimate so many programs that help so many people, in this economy," Harkin said.
Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) responded that he appreciated Harkin's concern for the poor, but added that Harkin should join a bipartisan effort to come up with a deficit-cutting plan because it will not be possible to continue spending at current levels.
That bipartisan group, led by Sens. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) and Mark Warner (D-Va.), is trying to craft a package of long-term spending cuts and revenue increases based on the president's debt commission report released this month.
The proposed omnibus, which wrapped all 12 appropriations bills into a 1,924-page measure, would have provided $19 billion in additional government funding compared to 2010 spending levels.
While the omnibus had $29 billion less in funding than President Obama
proposed in his budget message, Republicans objected to the inclusion
of $8 billion in earmarks and managed to kill the legislation.
The resolution approved Tuesday afternoon by the Senate represents a compromise. Republicans had sought a simple resolution to keep the government funded until February, but Democrats wanted a slightly longer-term measure with some minor funding increases. These include money to sustain the Pell Grant program.
And Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), in a prepared floor statement, blasted a provision in the resolution that will allow the Navy to offer two contracts for 20 littoral combat ships.