WASHINGTON — Congress has sent President Barack Obama a bipartisan spending bill that averts a federal shutdown, but widespread Republican defections underscore rifts between the party’s conservatives and pragmatists.
The legislation, passed Thursday, will keep all federal agencies functioning through Dec. 16, giving lawmakers more time to complete their tardy budget work.
The bill also finances five Cabinet-level agencies through the rest of the government’s budget year, which runs through next September. Lawmakers still have to write nine of the 12 annual spending bills for the fiscal year that started Oct. 1, covering giant agencies like the Pentagon and the Health and Human Services Department.
But Thursday’s votes highlighted the problems the party will have winning support for those bills, and deeper GOP divisions that extend to taxes and deficit reduction.
The compromise bill cleared Congress easily. Senate passage was by 70-30 and House approval was 298-121, with nearly all Democrats in both chambers supporting the measure.
Among Republicans, it was far different. GOP senators tilted against the legislation 30-17, while House Republicans backed it by a narrow 133-101 margin.
“We need real cuts, not minuscule cuts and certainly not increases,” said Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., who voted against passage.
Because Republicans knew that Democratic support for the legislation was solid, many of them may have felt free to vote against the spending bill, knowing their vote would not cause the government to shut its doors. Lawmakers were not eager to force a shutdown that would have further sullied Congress’ rock-bottom popularity with voters.
Even so, the vote seemed to echo GOP splits that have arisen over the work of Congress’ bipartisan supercommittee, which is flailing in its attempt to agree to $1.2 trillion in 10-year deficit cuts by a deadline Wednesday.
As the price of a deal with Democrats, some Republicans on the supercommittee have floated a plan that would increase taxes by nearly $300 billion over the decade while revamping the tax code. But that has stoked anger by many others in the GOP who say it would be blasphemy for the party to abandon its core stance against boosting revenue.
With next year’s presidential and congressional elections coming into view, that is only intensifying pressure on Republicans to take what they think will be a winning position on tax and spending issues.
Supporters of the spending bill like House Appropriations Committee Chairman Harold Rogers, R-Ky., said the measure stuck by a compromise that Republicans and Obama reached last summer to limit this year’s agency spending to just over $1 trillion — an amount that is $7 billion below last year’s levels.
The bill will “help put our budget and our economy on track,” Rogers said during Thursday’s debate.
But opponents said the bill still overspent. Conservatives also opposed language expanding the size of mortgages that can be insured by the Federal Housing Administration, a provision they said would expose taxpayers to more risk as homebuyers default.
“We have a moral obligation to not lay additional burdens on our posterity,” Rep. Scott Garrett, R-N.J., said.
The bill would provide $182 billion to finance the departments of Housing and Urban Development, Transportation, Agriculture, Commerce and Justice, and many smaller agencies.
Liberals were upset that the bill blocks Obama administration efforts to prod schools to offer students healthier lunches. That includes forcing the government to continue considering the tomato paste on pizzas a vegetable, a provision that was heavily lobbied by many food concerns.
Democrats were happy that the measure included more money than Republicans wanted for providing food to poor women, children and older people; helping communities hire police officers; operating federal prisons; financing the National Science Foundation; and for highway and transit programs.
GOP leaders told their rank-and-file that the bill would eliminate 20 federal programs. All were relatively small, including a $35 million Agriculture Department healthy food initiative and a $12 million National Science Foundation underground science lab.
They also noted that the bill provided none of the $8 billion Obama requested for building high-speed rail lines and none of the $322 million the president sought to establish a climate change office in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Obama’s request for an additional $308 million for the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, which is responsible for implementing much of last year’s financial regulatory law, was cut to $205 million. Reductions were also included for NASA.