The House passed a six-month stopgap spending bill Wednesday that lays out money for defense and veterans programs, with Senate Democrats expected to push to add more appropriations measures to the package next week.
The chamber voted 267-151 for the legislation (HR 933), which would freeze existing appropriations levels for most accounts and set total discretionary spending at $984 billion after across-the-board cuts that began March 1. Fifty-three Democrats voted for the bill, and 14 Republicans voted against it.
Democrats charged that the measure does not give non-defense accounts flexibility to shift spending around to lessen the blow of the sequester. And they said Congress should be using the appropriations bill to find an alternative to the automatic cuts.
Republicans countered that the legislation might not be perfect, but it would protect national security and allow legislators to avoid the specter of a government shutdown.
Composition of the Senate version of a fiscal 2013 spending package remains a question, although some Democrats and Republicans have said they will seek to add more appropriations bills to the package.
Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., a senior appropriator, said he would like to see spending bills for other departments and agencies that have already been worked out with the House included in the measure, and Senate Appropriations ranking Republican Richard C. Shelby of Alabama said that discussions about that were ongoing.
Shelby said that the Commerce-Justice-Science bill was among the candidates to be added.
“We have to see what’s doable,” Shelby said, before acknowledging that difficulties may arise. “You know, obstacles crop up around here — they jump off the floor.”
Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., said Congress still has enough time before the current continuing resolution expires March 27 to soften the impact of sequester cuts on other programs.
“Today’s vote is on whether you think sequester is rational,” Hoyer said. “The next vote will be on keeping government open.”
Appropriations ranking Democrat Nita M. Lowey of New York said the bill “reaffirms sequestration,” threatening the viability of programs ranging from life-saving medical research to accurate weather forecasting.
Massachusetts Democrat Jim McGovern said leaving the cuts in place instead of replacing them with a mix of spending reductions and revenue increases would damage education, law enforcement and environmental protection programs to protect corporations from higher taxes.
“Outside of this little bubble here in Washington, there is a bipartisan consensus that what we’re doing here is crazy,” McGovern said. “This does not make any sense — mindless, senseless, across-the-board cuts.”
Oklahoma Republican Tom Cole, a House appropriator, said the American people want the federal government to “take less of their money, not more.”
Cole said he hopes the Senate will add more individual spending measures to the bill to recapture some of the appropriating work that comes with regular order.
“We are not in a last-minute crisis atmosphere here,” Cole said. “We are not trying to jam our friends in the Senate.”
Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers, R-Ky., said the bill “takes the risk of a government shutdown off the table — funding the government for the remainder of the fiscal year while helping maintain our national security and providing our troops and veterans with consistent, adequate funding.”
Armed Services Chairman Howard “Buck” McKeon of California said a straight continuing resolution would have stove-piped spending on certain defense programs, and the separate measures help to ensure national security.