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US House passes bipartisan $1.1 trillion spending bill

Snow begins to gather on a statue outside the US Capitol Building in Washington, December 10, 2013
Snow begins to gather on a statue outside the US Capitol Building in Washington, December 10, 2013

The US House of Representatives on Wednesday overwhelmingly approved a $1.1 trillion spending bill for fiscal year 2014, capping months-long negotiations and marking a truce in three years of fiscal battles plaguing Washington.

The measure, which funds federal government under the budget framework hammered out by Democrats and Republicans last month, passed 359-67, in a strong show of bipartisanship that belies the intense bickering that has marked recent debates over how -- and how much -- to fund government.

It now heads to the Senate, where it is expected to pass this week before being signed into law by President Barack Obama.

"It was very, very difficult, but we did it," said House Democrat Barbara Lee, stressing that the compromise agreement "gets us out of this cycle of government by crisis."

It also eliminates the threat of a government shutdown this month, similar to the one that paralyzed Washington for 16 days in October when Congress failed to agree on a budget.

And with nearly three-quarters of Republicans voting for the bill, it marks a rejection of the faction of Tea Party conservatives and activists staunchly opposed to virtually any increased spending.

Groups like Heritage Action, the political arm of the conservative Heritage Foundation think-tank, urged lawmakers to oppose the bill for blowing past spending levels set by the Budget Control Act of 2011.

Jenny Beth Martin, who co-founded Tea Party Patriots, noted how the 1,582-page "monstrosity" was introduced two nights earlier and was "rushed to a vote before Congress can read it."

The high-stakes spending bill sets discretionary limits line by line for each federal agency until September 30, when fiscal year 2014 ends.

In addition to the discretionary $1.012 trillion, the measure includes $92 billion for foreign contingency operations, mainly the war in Afghanistan, and $6.5 billion for extraordinary expenses linked to natural disasters.

But the bill comes with a caveat that could prove a sticking point with Kabul. It halts aid to Afghanistan unless the country signs on to a new bilateral security agreement.

It also essentially blocks any new spending on the president's health care reforms known as Obamacare, but it funds pre-kindergarten initiatives like Head Start to a surprisingly high level of $8.6 billion, a reported 13 percent over current funding.

"This bill is not perfect, I hate to tell you, but it is a good one," said veteran congressman Hal Rogers, the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee who steered the spending negotiations.

Republicans hailed the deal for slashing discretionary spending for the fourth year in row.

And "by placing the power of the purse back in the hands of Congress and away from the executive branch, our representative Democracy is functioning the way our founders had intended," number three House Republican Kevin McCarthy said in a statement.

Despite the savings trend, overall federal expenditures were set to rise slightly in 2014 as the deal erases painful and automatic spending cuts that were due to kick in on January 1 for the next two years.

The discretionary budget only represents about a third of federal public spending.

It does not include mandatory spending, such as the Medicare insurance program for the elderly and Social Security, set to reach $2.196 trillion in 2014, according to Congressional Budget Office estimates.

Overall, the deficit which reached 4.1 percent of gross domestic product in 2013 is set to drop over the next decade. The CBO said it would fall to 2.3 percent of GDP in 2015.

But despite the federal savings, US borrowing authority is expected to reach its limit by early March. That debt ceiling will need to be raised by Congress if the US Treasury is to pay its bills, setting up a potential fiscal showdown in Washington.