Senate approves government funding bill; sends to House

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.

It also includes the two-year freeze on federal civilian worker pay proposed this month by President Obama, but it does not include new funds for the implementation of the healthcare and Wall Street reform bills.

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.