House approves $1.1T continuing resolution to fund the government

The House on Wednesday approved a $1.1 trillion continuing resolution (CR) funding the government through Sept. 30.
 
The bill, which passed 212-206 largely along party lines, freezes 2011 discretionary appropriations at the current level, providing $45.9 billion less than President Obama requested for the year.

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It also contains food-safety legislation, which passed the Senate last month but had to be reconsidered because of a technical error.

The vote was timed to force Republicans backing tax cuts for the wealthiest individuals, which will increase the national debt, to come to the floor to blast deficit spending.
 
House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.) said on the House floor that the CR arrives at a time when Republicans are demanding “super-sized tax cuts for millionaires” and Washington “is singing pious songs about dealing with long-term budget deficits.”
 
Republicans, including outgoing House Appropriations Committee ranking member Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.), did raise a call for fiscal responsibility.

Lewis said Congress should pass a CR that simply returns 2011 spending to 2008 levels, a move he said would save $100 billion over time. Lewis, a longtime friend to defense contractors, added, however, that the bill “shortchanges” U.S. troops by failing to provide $18 billion in new funding requested by the Pentagon.

A CR is needed because Congress failed to pass any of the 12 regular appropriations bills for 2011, in addition to failing to pass a budget resolution at all for the first time since 1974.

Democrats plan to amend the CR in the Senate into an omnibus appropriations bill that has been crafted by Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii).
 
That Senate bill, which is also being worked on by minority staff in an effort to garner enough Republican votes to overcome a filibuster, would provide about $19 billion more in funding than the House CR and would contain congressional earmarks.
 
An administration official said President Obama prefers passage of an omnibus appropriations bill.

“An omnibus bill would enable the government to get on a prudent fiscal path sooner rather than later, at a time when we cannot afford to defer tough decisions,” the official said. The official did not explain how a larger spending bill containing earmarks was more “prudent.”
 
If Congress cannot come to an agreement on passage of an omnibus, the administration prefers a full-year continuing resolution to a short-term one, the official said. House Republicans want a short-term CR, which would give them the opportunity to slash 2011 funding early next year.

Over the objection of House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), the bill contains a two-year freeze on federal civilian worker pay. Hoyer, along with other Washington-area representatives, had sought only a one-year freeze.
 
The bill includes billions of dollars in changes to spending at the request of the administration, but the new spending is covered by reductions in other areas, Obey’s office said. For example, $6 billion less in funding is granted to the Census Bureau, which is winding down work on the 2010 Census.
 
Meanwhile, $3.1 billion in new funding would be given to the Veterans Administration for medical operations, and $4.9 billion to the Pentagon for salary and healthcare costs.
 
With this increase, the act includes $513 billion overall for the Department of Defense. It has $501.4 billion for all other appropriations, $3.5 billion below the current year.
 
It also includes $159 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as Obama requested, and prohibits funding for congressional earmarks that were included in 2010 spending bills.
 
The bill sets aside $624 million to fund implementation of the New START arms-control treaty with Russia, which must first be ratified by the Senate.
 
A provision that would expand gambling on Native American reservations provoked the most heated floor debate Wednesday.

Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) alleged that the provision had been slipped into the bill, to which Obey took offense. Obey noted that Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) had successfully won approval of the measure in an Appropriations subcommittee vote.
 
The provision would reverse a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that blocked some tribes from putting land outside their reservations into a trust either for building housing or to build a casino.
 
Another controversial provision codifies a lengthy new timeline for the approval of offshore oil-and-gas drilling licenses.
 
The watchdog group Citizens Against Government Waste was furiously combing the bill for earmarks on Wednesday and said it was able to identify at least one: $15 million for the International Fund for Ireland.