Politico - House approves spending bill
By David Rogers, Politico
The House approved a 30-day stop-gap spending bill Friday designed to keep the government operating through October and buy more time for the cash-strapped Postal Service to meet a $5.4 billion payment due next week for its retirees’ health benefits.
Adopted 217-190, the measure allows the Postal Service to pay only $1.4 billion on Sept. 30 and effectively amortize the remaining $4 billion after 2017. With $32 billion in the fund, the agency insists it is still able to meet its obligations, but the issue has been handled with such a political sleight-of-hand that conservatives worry it could come back to haunt taxpayers.
The House overwhelmingly endorsed the restructured payment plan for the Postal Service on a vote earlier this month. But the Senate has yet to act on the issue and will have little opportunity now to amend the short-term spending bill into which it has been inserted.
Under normal circumstances, such continuing resolutions — commonly called CRs — are fast-track, must-pass measures, leaving little time for debate before the new fiscal year begins Oct. 1. But in this case, Democrats have added a second protective shield of sorts by wrapping this CR into yet another budget measure, a legislative appropriations conference report which enjoys special privileges during floor debate.
The whole episode is an embarrassment for the Democratic leaders who began the year promising to pass appropriations bills without resorting to the parliamentary gimmicks they so often criticized when Republicans were in power. Yet despite solid majorities in both the House and Senate –and a new Democratic president—the annual process is still far behind schedule, making it more tempting to revert to old ploys.
Republicans have dragged out floor debate in the Senate, but wrangling among Democrats over the rules governing home state pork barrel projects has also contributed to the delays. A third major factor is the still unresolved White House issue of closing the Guantanamo detention facility—which has held up agreement on the Homeland Security budget as well as several other bills.
Against this background, the modest, non-controversial legislative budget bill was the most easily available alternative for Democrats to carry the CR. And House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.) defended the decision, saying he wanted to pursue the “least disruptive” path to keep the government funded and add some confidence to a public already worried by the uncertainty of the economy.
Voting against the package was a “vote to shut down the government,” Obey warned Republicans, bringing back echoes of the famous Newt Gingrich shutdown of the mid-‘90s. But Obey’s argument had few buyers across the aisle Friday, and the final vote broke sharply along party lines.
“Why must our brave homeland security professionals wait while we delay and dicker,” complained Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), accusing Democrats of putting anti-terrorism funding “on ice” while moving ahead with Congress’s own budget.
The legislative appropriations package, totaling about $4.66 billion, covers the operations of the Capitol itself as well as related agencies, like the Library of Congress, which would receive $15 million in new funding for its information technology initiative. The spending totals reflect a modest reduction from President Barack Obama’s requests, but still a 3.5% increase over current funding for this fiscal year.