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House Passes Spending Bill

January 16, 2014
The Wall Street Journal
Janet Hook

The House passed a $1.012 trillion bill Wednesday that would fund the government for the next 8½ months, advancing a broad policy compromise between the warring political parties.

The 1,582-page amalgam of discretionary spending for activities from the Army to water projects passed 359-67, with 166 Republican and 193 Democratic votes. The Senate is expected to clear the bill by week's end.

The bill takes the edge off spending constraints imposed by the 2011 budget law that established across-the-board spending cuts known as the sequester. Its passage signaled the waning influence of the tea party-backed conservatives who helped the GOP win control of the House in 2010.

The increase from the previous year's $986 billion in discretionary spending includes more money for biomedical research, preschool education and infrastructure programs that are top administration priorities. But Republicans remained proud of keeping spending lower than levels that prevailed in 2009, when Barack Obama became president.

Besides the discretionary spending, the bill includes $92 billion in emergency funding for foreign refugee assistance, the war in Afghanistan and other overseas operations. And it would exempt disabled veterans and those receiving survivors' benefits from a planned cut in the cost-of-living adjustment to pension benefits for military retirees of working age.

After three years of budget battles between Mr. Obama and the GOP, the bill marks the first time in years that Congress has been able to set spending priorities from top to bottom, instead of putting parts of the government on autopilot. That returns power to the House and Senate Appropriations Committees, whose four leaders wrote the details of the enormous bill in unusually tight secrecy.

"This was a fair, bipartisan deal and restored the Appropriations Committee to regular processes and away from brinkmanship," said Rep. Nita Lowey of New York, the top Democrat on the House panel.

The bill also offered opportunity for lawmakers of both parties to seize bragging rights for helping their constituents.

The bill included $20 million that Rep. Tom Rooney (R., Fla.), an Appropriations panel member whose district is carpeted with orange groves, had requested for a program to fight a disease afflicting citrus crops. "You take this job to make a difference,'' he said. But with the panel gridlocked and unable to enact legislation in recent years, he said, "it's been hard. It's nice to be able to deliver."

The bill was opposed by three Democrats and 64 Republicans, some of whom objected to spending above the limits set in the 2011 deal reached to increase the federal borrowing limit. "I cannot support this budget-busting $1.1 trillion spending bill, which piles another $45 billion onto our $17 trillion national debt in violation of the spending caps that took effect just months ago," said GOP Rep. Tom Cotton of Arkansas, who is challenging Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor in the Senate this year.

The bipartisan budget deal that set the spending bill's parameters also included measures that will overall reduce the federal budget deficit by roughly $23 billion over 10 years.

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