Appropriators achieved Monday what seemed like an impossible task, crafting an omnibus spending bill that includes even the most contentious of the 12 subcommittee measures.
In recent years, the idea of moving a spending bill funding departments like Health and Human Services and the Environmental Protection Agency through the divided Congress has seemed at times laughable. With a product in hand, now the time comes for the panel's leaders to sell the measure, which would fund the discretionary parts of the government through the end of September.
"The agreement includes the work of all of our Subcommittee Chairs and Ranking Members — in total, nearly 50 Members of the House and Senate, an equal number of Democrats and Republicans," Senate Appropriations Chairwoman Barbara A. Mikulski said in a statement. "It is truly a bipartisan agreement that a significant number of Members worked day and night over the holidays, and I thank them all for their dedication."
The top-line total of $1.012 trillion was set by the earlier budgetary agreement between House Budget Chairman Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., and Senate counterpart Patty Murray, D-Wash.
Speaking with reporters earlier in the evening, Mikulski noted the roughly 134 policy riders that she and House Chairman Harold Rogers, R-Ky., needed to resolve.
"You know what some of those riders are, and if you look at the website you’ll see. There’s no new abortion riders," she said.
"The Omnibus will fulfill the basic duty of Congress; it provides funding for every aspect of the federal government, from our national defense, to our transportation systems, to the education of our kids," Rogers said in his own statement. "The bill reflects careful decisions to realign the nation's funding priorities and target precious tax dollars to important programs where they are needed the most. At the same time, the legislation will continue the downward trend in federal spending to put our nation on a sustainable fiscal path."
The agreement is being carried on a legislative vehicle that will allow for expedited consideration on both sides of the Rotunda. Most notably, only one debate-limiting cloture vote could be required to overcome procedural delays in the Senate. Since the measure's expected to reach the House floor Wednesday, the timing is right to get the measure to President Barack Obama's desk by week's end.
The deal reverses a portion of the military benefit changes in the Murray-Ryan budget agreement, carving out an exemption to prevent cuts in benefits for disabled veterans and their families.
Rogers has introduced a three-day continuing resolution to keep the government up and running while the Senate works through procedural machinations. Unless a senator launches an objection to that measure, there's no reason to expect a shutdown at this point. House Republicans are due to be briefed on the agreement Tuesday.
Nonetheless, as with any 1,582-page spending bill, the package includes no shortage of interesting provisions that will get more attention as lawmakers and the public have time to read through it.
For instance, the bill provides the customary bereavement payment of $174,000 (one year's salary) to Beverly A. Young, the widow of the longtime chairman of the House's Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, Rep. C.W. Bill Young, R-Fla.
It also would maintain funding of $16.7 million for the East-West Center, which is a cultural exchange center located in Hawaii. The project was a favorite of late Senate Appropriations Chairman Daniel K. Inouye.
A summary provided by the House Appropriations Committee notes the measure would block, among other things, enforcement of new standards on light bulbs. However, an aide to Mikulski said that a number of controversial riders in the portion of the bill funding the Interior Department and the Environmental Protection Agency were left by the wayside.
The bill also would set a pay freeze for senior administration officials, including the vice president.
Mikulski, who counts many federal workers among her Maryland constituency, worked to provide most federal workers with the first cost-of-living adjustment in years, which took effect this month.
There are also a number of familiar riders, including one barring federal funding of abortions in most circumstances and another blocking the construction of facilities to imprison detainees currently held at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.