Senate Overcomes Conflicts to Pass Minibus

The Senate today sent President Barack Obama a package of three spending bills, which includes a provision that keeps the government funded through Dec. 16.

Senate action on the minibus, which was passed 70 to 30, came a few hours after the House passed the package 298-121.

The Senate is expected to be in session Friday working on the Defense authorization bill, but no roll call votes are likely.

The bill was approved over the objections of mostly conservative Members who charged the measure was too costly. They also protested language on housing loans that they considered harmful, and the two concerns prompted a handful of organizations including the Club for Growth and Heritage Action to designate the measure as a key vote.

Still, the House and Senate’s approval marks a victory for the two chambers, which have been at odds on spending matters all year.

“It has become all too rare a thing in this Congress to come to an agreement such as this, and I’m proud to say that this conference report was approved by all but one of the 38 House and Senate conferees from both parties,” House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) said on the floor. “While there are no doubt items where Members might disagree, there are many achievements in this bill of which we can be proud.”

Senate Appropriations Chairman Daniel Inouye said that the budget and spending process this year has faced “unprecedented challenges” as partisan disagreements over spending delayed the appropriations process.

“Despite these challenges, we now consider legislation that reflects the good-faith efforts and input of Members of both sides of the aisle of both the House and the Senate,” the Hawaii Democrat said. “Given the current fiscal and political realities, this is no small accomplishment.”

A continuing resolution that funds the government through Dec. 16 is included in the overall package, which also contains three appropriations bills: the Commerce, Justice and science appropriations bill; the Transportation and Housing and Urban Development appropriations bill; and the Agriculture, rural development, and Food and Drug Administration appropriations bill.

The National Association of Home Builders added the bill to its key votes because it includes language that increases the mortgage amount the Federal Housing Administration can insure to $729,750, a move it thinks helps the struggling housing market.

But that provision has conservatives up in arms. Club for Growth and Heritage Action specifically pointed to the increased loan limits as a major reason they oppose the package.

“By increasing the limit, the government increases the risk that taxpayers will end up on the hook for non-performing loans,” the group said in a release. “Government housing subsidies greatly contributed to the 2008 housing crisis. We should not make that mistake again expecting a different result.”

The minibus also includes a host of gun provisions, including three that were in previous spending bills, that would be made permanent.

The current continuing resolution expires midnight Friday, and government funds would have ceased to flow and the federal government would have shut down if Congress hadn’t acted before then.

Efforts in the Senate to pass a second minibus have stalled. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid had hoped to attach the State and foreign operations appropriations bill and the financial services and general government appropriations bill to the Energy and water development appropriations bill, which the Senate had been considering.

But the Nevada Democrat gave up on that earlier this week when an agreement could not be reached to combine the three bills. He then focused on just the Energy and water bill but has put that aside while an agreement on amendments is worked out. The Senate has moved on to the Defense authorization bill.

If the Senate does not return to the Energy spending measure, it will likely end up in a catch-all omnibus package, which Congress has until Dec. 16 to pass under the proposed continuing resolution.