$1.1 Trillion Spending Bill Easily Approved by Congress
WASHINGTON -- The Senate passed a $1.1 trillion omnibus appropriations bill tonight, sending the spending whopper to President Obama's desk for a signature and leaving the hacktivist collective Anonymous simply commenting on its Twitter account, "Where is the cash coming from?"
The vote on the 1,500-page monstrosity, a deal announced on Monday, in the upper chamber was as easy -- 72-26 -- as it was in the House yesterday, where it passed 359-67.
Supporters hailed it as another step toward comity in Congress on the heels of the bipartisan budget agreement forged and passed by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-Wash.) at the end of last year.
“I’m pleased that Congress has come together to fill in the details of the framework Chairman Ryan and I agreed on in December and fund the government in a way that invests in families and communities across the country," Murray said. "Moving forward I hope we will build on this bipartisan work rather than returning to the economic hostage-taking and artificial crises we saw far too much of last year.”
The omnibus included all 12 appropriations bills and was forged in negotiations with Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) and Ranking Member Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), as well as a few dozen Democrats and Republicans from both chambers of Congress. "It is truly a bipartisan agreement that a significant number of members worked on day and night over the holidays," Mikulski said.
It had a little bit of everything to tempt the palate of most lawmakers, including gun-violence prevention appropriations cheered by Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.). The bill includes $115 million for Obama’s "Now is the Time" initiative to expand access to mental health services, $128 million for the Federal Bureau of Investigation to conduct background checks, $58.5 million for states to improve their criminal background check databases, $75 million for the National Institute of Justice to conduct a new Comprehensive School Safety Initiative, and $15 million to train local police on how to respond to active shooter situations.
“Thankfully, the resources included in this bill will make it easier for these people – who are frequently the victims of violent crime – to get help," Murphy said. "Furthermore, I applaud the bill’s commitment to improving our nation’s criminal background check system, which will help take guns out of the hands of criminals and prevent them committing heinous acts of violence against innocent victims."
Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) said he got "several key provisions that are critically important to Georgians and the economic future of our state," including "language that will help us make progress with Georgia’s number one economic development project - the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project."
“I’m also pleased that this bill prevents cuts to benefits for military widows and widowers as well as for disabled veterans that were set to take place in 2015," Isakson added. “...While this bill is not perfect, it is a step in the right direction toward getting Congress back in the business of budgeting and appropriating, rather than continuing the pattern of last-minute showdowns on short-term patches.”
Mikulski got $417 million in funding for the Office on Violence Against Women at the Department of Justice as part of the omnibus. “Now that our efforts to reauthorize VAWA 2013 have succeeded, I know that it is more important than ever to make sure that we continue making strong investments in programs to combat domestic abuse, dating violence and sexual assault; protect women, families, underserved victim populations, and our communities; and help rebuild lives,” she said.
Alaska got funding for fisheries management, support for mental health programs, and payments to tribes for operating health programs that the administration has not been making as required by contract.
“While I am adamant about reducing the deficit and cutting the fat from the federal budget, I was aggressive about leveraging my position on the Senate Appropriations Committee to ensure Alaskans receive their fair share of federal investment dollars,” said Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska).
In addition to Isakson and Shelby, GOP "yeas" came from Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), John Boozman (R-Ark.), Dan Coats (R-Ind.), Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), John Hoeven (R-N.D.), Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), Jerry Moran (R-Kansas), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), David Vitter (R-La.), and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.).
The Office of Management and Budget had urged "swift passage" of the omnibus in the House on Tuesday, saying "it unwinds some of the damaging cuts caused by sequestration, ensures the continuation of critical services that the American people depend on, and invests in essential areas such as education, infrastructure, manufacturing, and scientific research, which contribute to growing the economy, creating jobs, and strengthening the middle class."
Some Republicans were most upset with the form of the debate, as Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) blocked amendments.
“I filed more than a dozen amendments to this trillion-dollar spending bill that would have reduced the cost, size and scope of the federal government, and the majority leader refused to allow a vote on any of them,” said Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) after the cloture vote. “I could not support moving forward on this bill because the majority leader continues to block amendments.”
“I could not vote for this bill because it spends too much and is full of the same tired gimmicks we’ve seen over the years,” Flake added after the final vote.
Most cited the level of the spending and lack of offsets as the reason for their "no" votes.
“I cannot support a long-term funding measure that fails to cut significant wasteful spending. As I stated when I opposed the budget in December, this deal delays actual spending cuts for nearly a decade. While sequestration is not a wise way to cut government spending, we can’t afford to return to business as usual – no more delays or promises of cuts down the road," said Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.).
"While the bill does reverse the reduction in previously promised benefits to medically retired members of the military, the change falls short," she added. "Congress should restore benefits for all retired service members.”
Idaho GOP Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch said the bill adds to the $17 trillion national debt, fails to nix more than $200 billion in spending on duplicative and ineffective programs, and doesn't address the $30 billion singled out in Sen. Tom Coburn's (R-Okla.) government waste book.
“Over 20 percent of the spending is borrowed money," Risch said. "In addition to the many other unacceptable provisions, it eliminates the longstanding Payments in Lieu of Property Taxes (PILT) to the states, which Idaho so heavily relies on.”
Coburn was one of the most vocal opponents of the bill on the Senate floor, warning "this hole is getting deeper, deeper and deeper."
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) attempted two unanimous consent requests to defund Obamacare. "The Senate squelched any debate over Obamacare and proceeded to pass its trillion-dollar spending bill no one has even read," he said.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) argued that the omnibus "does nothing to encourage broad-based economic growth, nothing to save our retirement programs, and actually places more financial burdens on working-class Americans."
“We should be having more routine, robust debates on the worthiness and appropriate funding level for individual programs, but this spending bill just lumps everything in and gives the American people an all-or-nothing choice — and that is unacceptable," Rubio said.
Republicans weren't the only ones holding their noses at the bill.
“This is most certainly not the budget that I would have written. At a time when one out of four corporations pays nothing in federal income taxes and income inequality is exploding, this budget fails to ask the richest Americans or most profitable corporations to pay a nickel more in taxes," Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said. “...While this is not the bill that I would have written, the alternative – another government shutdown – would have been catastrophic for our country and for the economy.”