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January 16, 2014

Congress Funds US Government Through September

by Michael Bowman

A politically divided U.S. Congress has funded the federal government for the remainder of the fiscal year, avoiding another potential government shutdown and restoring some sense of budgetary normalcy to Washington. The Senate passed the so-called “omnibus” spending bill 72 to 26, after the House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved the measure Wednesday.

The $1.1 trillion spending bill will fund the U.S. government through September. It eases automatic, across-the-board spending cuts for domestic and defense programs, raises the pay of civilian federal workers for the first time in four years, and protects the benefits of military veterans.

Most lawmakers cheered what the bill represents: a reprieve from partisan gridlock and a demonstration that Congress can still function and fulfill its duties. Democrat Barbara Mikulski heads the Senate Appropriations Committee.

“In today’s era of shutdowns, slowdowns, slam-down [bare-knuckle] politics, we worked together, setting aside partisan differences. This is what the American people deserve," she said.

The committee’s top Republican, Senator Richard Shelby, said the bill is the product of compromise and bipartisanship.

“On balance, I believe it represents a middle ground on which we can all comfortably stand. It is certainly far better than the alternative, which would be another confrontation, another government shutdown, and another giant step further away from establishing some sense of regular [legislative] order," he said.

To be sure, many Democrats wanted more funds for domestic priorities than the bill contains. Similarly, the legislation provides almost none of the long-term cost saving reforms sought by Republicans. While easing some spending cuts, the bill retains much of the overall frugality that has helped cut the U.S. federal deficit in half over the last two years.

That fact did not satisfy budget hawks like Republican Senator Tom Coburn, who blasted the measure as a betrayal of Congress’ previous commitments to slash spending.

“Truth in budgeting and spending matters. At least, if we are going to do this, let us own up to what we are doing. Let us not be dishonest with the American people about the [budget] numbers," he said.

Polls show most Americans blamed Republicans for last year’s partial government shutdown, and many Republican lawmakers openly admitted they had no desire for a repeat this year. In November, all House seats and one-third of the Senate will be up for election. Once President Barack Obama signs the spending bill into law, it will allow lawmakers to campaign free of the burdens of a partisan budget war - at least through September.