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Appropriators in the Senate are trying to stave off attempts from budget hawks and proponents of more special exceptions that threaten to slow down work on the continuing resolution needed to fund the government through the rest of the fiscal year.
Senators began lining up a potential logjam of amendments as the stopgap funding measure (HR 933) hit the floor on Tuesday, and now that Republican Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Tom Coburn of Oklahoma have lifted their holds on the bill, consideration of those amendments has begun.
“We’re off and running,” said Senate Appropriations Chairwoman Barbara A. Mikulski, D-Md., after Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, offered the first amendment, which would delay funding for implementing the Affordable Care Act until the economy begins to grow again.
A sudden procedural slowdown Tuesday prompted tempers to flare and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to say, “We should have been legislating today.” But after McCain and Coburn said Wednesday morning they had completed their review of the bill and would let consideration resume, Reid withdrew his cloture motion.
The continuing resolution to extend funding for the government through the rest of the 2013 fiscal year on the expiration of the current CR on March 27 has become a relatively rare vehicle for riders from senators looking to score points through a spending plan.
They range from plans to extend flexibility to more federal agencies to better manage budget cuts under sequester to measures that would restrict aid to Egypt, suspend funding for the 2010 health care law (PL 111, 148, PL 111-152) and carve out some of the line items that were included when Mikulski and Appropriations ranking member Richard C. Shelby, of Alabama, agreed to include several separate bills with updated spending directions.
But the bill faces attacks from fiscal conservatives who say they have identified many wasteful provisions in the bill. “I’m willing to do what is necessary to make sure we get a continuing resolution,” Coburn said on the floor Tuesday. “But I’m not willing to do that blindly.”
McCain, a member of the Armed Services Committee, said appropriators had added provisions that usurped the directions of authorizing committees.
“I’ve identified at least 59 programs in the CR that are receiving $6.4 billion more than requested by the president or authorized by the defense authorization bill,” he said. “These include $120 million for a public regional health laboratory and civilian wastewater improvements in Guam, even though the Armed Services Committees in the House and Senate explicitly prohibited this funding; $567 million for unrequested medical research; and $120 million for algae research in Hawaii.”
Although the delay suggested complications behind a bill needed to avert a government shutdown, lawmakers insisted it amounted to a speed bump, not a roadblock.
“I expect it will come to the floor and pass” this week, said Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, a senior GOP appropriator.
He noted Mikulski and Shelby have been working closely with House Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers, R-Ky., and Nita M. Lowey of New York, the ranking Democrat on the committee, to create a bill that can pass both chambers.
“I am going to vote to move the process along and I don’t think reconciling any differences will be much of a problem,” said Roger Wicker, R-Miss.