In a bid to force U.S. lawmakers to wrap up their work for the year, House Republicans unveiled a $1 trillion spending bill that would set budgets for hundreds of government programs.
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Republicans aim to put the measure to a vote tomorrow in a move designed to give them an advantage in a separate battle with Democrats over extending the expiring payroll tax cut.
Passing the spending bill would allow Republicans to leave for their Christmas holiday after Friday’s session, as scheduled, increasing pressure on the Democrat-led Senate to accept it as well as the Republicans’ version of the payroll tax cut. Democrats have been holding up spending legislation on concerns that approval would ensure the House recess, forcing them to accept both measures.
A short-term bill funding federal agencies expires tomorrow, and if Congress does not take action by close of day Friday, the government will partially shut down. House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) said his colleagues want to break the payroll-tax stalemate.
President Barack Obama’s spokesman Dan Pfeiffer said last night that lawmakers should instead pass a short-term budget measure to buy more time for negotiations on the budget bill and the payroll tax cut.
“Given the magnitude of the legislation — providing over $1 trillion dollars in funding — coupled with the unresolved payroll-tax cut and unemployment insurance extension, Congress should pass a short-term continuing resolution,” Pfeiffer said in a statement released Wednesday.
The sheer size of the measure being presented by republicans — some 1,200 pages — means lawmakers will be asked to vote on legislation they haven’t had time enough to read. “It goes against a lot of what we’ve said we were going to do,” said Representative Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.).
As part of its “Pledge to America” campaign, the party last year said “we will end the practice of packaging unpopular bills with ‘must-pass’ legislation” and “instead, we will advance major legislation one issue at a time.”
The spending measure wraps together nine overdue appropriations bills that would fund almost 40 percent of the national government, including the Departments of Defense, Labor, Education, Homeland Security, Veterans Affairs, and others.
Republicans are also hoping to push through a payroll tax plan the House passed earlier this week, which is packaged with a plan to expedite construction of an oil pipeline from Canada to Texas, raising Medicare premiums for those earning upwards of $80,000 annually, and paring unemployment benefits to 59 weeks, from 99 weeks.
However, the spending bill released early this morning might not find enough support among House Republicans for its passage. More than 100 Republicans — 40 percent of the chamber’s caucus — opposed a spending bill last month, forcing party leaders to rely on Democratic votes to pass the measure.
Representative Tim Huelskamp (R-Kans.) said he would withhold his judgment until he was sure of what would be in the legislation. “I’m not going to vote for something unless I have a pretty good idea of what’s in it and right now, we don’t,” Huelskamp said. “I’ve got to see what’s in it.”
Combined with a related bill last month, the budget bill would cap non-emergency discretionary spending at $1.043 trillion — $7 billion less than last year and the second consecutive year that appropriations would have declined. The cuts are even larger when compared with inflation, currently at 3.5 percent, and the increased demand for government services that comes with population growth.
More than half of the bill is comprised of the Defense Department’s budget, which would be increased by $5 billion or about 1 percent to $518 billion. That figure does not include an additional $115 billion in emergency war funding.
Some of the bill’s biggest cuts would come in foreign aid and international programs. Funding for the State Department, global health programs, economic assistance, and other initiatives would fall by 13 percent, according to Republicans.
The bill would also cut Pell grants, which help low-income families send children to college, by $11 billion over the next decade, in part by tightening eligibility criteria.
The Environmental Protection Agency would see its budget cut by 3 percent. When combined with reductions approved earlier this year, that would mean an 18 percent cut from 2010. The Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, would have its budget cut by 6 percent.
The bill also includes various policy “riders” including ones targeting the administration’s policies on travel and sending money to Cuba, public funding for abortions in Washington, D.C., and energy-efficient light bulbs.