As Congress bears down on a Nov. 18 deadline to pass new federal funding, the Senate today approved a package of three spending bills, 69-30, in an effort to jump-start the stalled appropriations process.
The package is made up of the Commerce, Justice and science; Agriculture, rural development, and Food and Drug Administration; and Transportation and Housing and Urban Development spending bills. The bills will now be reconciled in a House-Senate conference committee — the first appropriations conference since 2009.
To date, the House has passed six of the 12 annual spending bills and the Senate has passed four, including the three voted on today.
Congress has needed to pass two short-term spending measures. The latest expires Nov. 18, but with most of the bills still to be reconciled, another continuing resolution is expected. Appropriators are shooting to wrap up the process sometime in December.
"I am very pleased that the Senate has acted on this critical legislation," Senate Appropriations Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) said. "It is my hope and my intention to move forward with additional appropriations bills this week and to demonstrate to the American people that Congress is able to complete its work in a responsible manner. I urge my colleagues to continue in the current bipartisan spirit as we seek to move additional bills in the coming weeks. Building on the progress we have made this week will make it less likely that we will be forced to resort to an omnibus or yearlong continuing resolution down the road."
The Senate defeated a series of GOP amendments, including a proposal from Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) to send the bills back to the Appropriations Committee and require them to pare back spending to fiscal 2011 levels.
“My motion to reduce current 2012 spending by roughly $10 billion should have easily passed at a time when the country is running an annual deficit of $1.3 trillion and is saddled with a national debt as large as the entire annual output of the economy,” Lee said in a statement. “Instead, today’s vote shows that too many members of the Senate are still committed to fighting every attempt to enact even the smallest amount of savings.
Partisan rancor had been growing in the House and Senate Appropriations committees in recent years and came to a head this year after Republicans won control of the House following the 2010 election.
Buoyed by the victory, Republicans sought to make good on campaign promises to cut spending and reduce the deficit, which — with the Senate still under Democratic control — made agreeing to appropriations extremely difficult.
Earlier this year, Congress needed to pass seven short-term funding measures to keep the government operating past the Sept. 30, 2010, end of fiscal 2011 while a deal was negotiated by President Barack Obama, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). A final deal was ultimately struck in mid-April, but the spring of partisan sparring delayed work on fiscal 2012 spending.
Lois Lerner, director of exempt organizations for the IRS, arrives for a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on the investigation of the IRS' targeting of political groups. Lerner invoked her Fifth Amendment right to not testify and caused a protest from some committee members when she offered an opening statement and engaged in dialogue with members before invoking the right.
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