Senate passes $1T omnibus spending bill, sends it to Obama for signature

The Senate on Saturday morning passed a $915 billion omnibus appropriations bill, wrapping up a year of heated congressional battles over federal spending levels.

The legislation, which makes long-sought changes to government policy and funding levels for fiscal year 2012, passed by a vote of 67-32. Counting supplemental war funding, it exceeds $1 trillion.

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The upper chamber approved accompanying legislation providing another $8.6 billion for disaster relief but rejected a House-passed proposal to offset its cost with an across-the-board cut to discretionary spending.

The omnibus funds the departments of Defense, Education, Energy, Homeland Security, Labor, Health and Human Services, Interior and the Environmental Protection Agency, among other agencies.

The House passed the 1,200-page bill and the emergency spending bill on Friday. President Obama is expected to sign both Saturday.

Democrats claimed it as a major victory because it will deprive Republicans of significant leverage in next year’s policy fights. Republicans demanded steep cuts in federal spending earlier this year in exchange for keeping the government funded and raising the debt limit.

“Republicans will not have the leverage of shutting down the government or raising the debt ceiling,” said Sen. Chuck Schumer (N.Y.), the Senate Democrats’ chief political strategist. “We’re happy to have the spending issue resolved for the whole year because we were never on strong ground on the spending issue.”

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, especially members of the Senate and House Appropriations Committee, were eager to pass the bill after the federal government operated throughout 2011 on a continuing resolution that maintained policies and program levels set in the fiscal year 2010 appropriations bills.

“With the exception of the Department of Defense, all of these agencies have been running on a continuing resolution for well over a year,” said Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. “This must stop because it is no way to run a government, particularly one that must learn to do more with less. How can an agency be more efficient when it is operating on the budget plans that were developed two or even [three] years ago?”


Sen. Thad Cochran (Miss.), ranking Republican on the Appropriations Committee, emphasized the legislation conformed to the spending levels set by the Budget Control Act lawmakers passed in August to raise the debt ceiling.

Cochran also emphasized cuts the legislation makes to various government programs, including those tasked with implementing reforms of the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

“There are some dramatic reductions in spending,” Cochran said. “The independent payment advisory board, the co-op program created in the healthcare bill, we zeroed out funding in some of the energy credit subsidy provisions of this bill. That was hard to do but savings were needed."

Cochran said the legislation eliminated 22 programs in under the jurisdiction of the Labor-Health and Human Services section for a savings of $225 billion.


Even so, Democrats said they were pleased with the outcome of the massive bill.

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The final omnibus conference report increased funding for a variety of social programs compared to House-passed funding bills. It increased funding for job training by $2.2 billion, Pell Grants by $2.15 billion, school improvement grants by $535 million and literacy programs by $185 million, compared to the House GOP funding bills for 2012. The omnibus also provides $445 million for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which the House did not fund initially.

Democrats killed a slew of GOP-proposed policy riders that would have rolled back environmental and health regulations. These included proposals to block the EPA from protecting endangered species from pesticides and enforcing lead testing regulation. Another would have stopped funding for Title X family planning programs.

The legislation does, however, include a rider to delay light bulb efficiency standards that restricted the manufacture and sale of incandescent light bulbs. Another provision the legislation prohibits the transfer of detainees from the Guantanamo Bay prison camp to the U.S. for trial, although it allows the president a waiver for exceptional cases.

This story was updated at 3:45 p.m.


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