House passes Defense spending bill, riders

The House Wednesday approved, 395-34, the fiscal 2010 Defense spending bill package that includes a series of two-month extensions of unemployment insurance, COBRA health benefits and other programs, in an effort to wrap up remaining issues before likely adjourning for the year.

Of the 34 votes against the package, 23 came from Democrats.

The House approved a five-day continuing resolution by voice vote and also is expected to pass two other bills - a roughly $300 billion increase in the debt ceiling and a $150 billion jobs package.

During debate on the rule for all four proposals, Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, urged approval of them all to provide funding for the troops and help put Americans back to work. "Our economic security and our national security are inextricably linked and our economic security is still in dire straits," Pingree said.

Most Republicans ended up supporting the Defense package after Democrats decided not to include a $1.8 trillion increase in the debt limit. However, Republicans were critical of the 4.5 percent increase in the Defense measure, the last of the fiscal 2010 appropriations bills, versus an average of 12 percent increases in nondefense appropriations bills.

"This last-minute jumble of bills represents all the leftovers that the Democrat majority could not pass on their own," said House Appropriations Committee ranking member Jerry Lewis, R-Calif., while announcing he would vote for the Defense bill.

"It is unfortunate that we have to end this challenging year on such a low note, but at least we can rest assured that our troops and their families will have the resources they need, regardless of the irresponsible process by which we provided it to them," he said.

The package, along with the $636 billion Defense measure, includes two-month extensions of the USA PATRIOT Act, highway and transit programs, flood insurance and Small Business Administration loans.

It also contains funds for the administration of the food stamp program and a 90-day extension of a law governing transmission of broadcast television signals via satellite services.

The nation is projected to hit the $12.1 trillion statutory debt limit by the end of the month. The $300 billion increase -- which will need to be revisited in February -- will allow Democrats to continue negotiations with fiscal conservatives who have said they would oppose a larger increase without implementing efforts to reduce the deficit.

The CR would extend funding for federal programs through Dec. 23 to allow the Senate to pass the Defense Appropriations bill and get the finished product to the White House.

The $150 billion jobs bill includes $75 billion for infrastructure projects, as well as assistance to states and localities to help avoid layoffs of police officers, firefighters, teachers and other government workers. It would be paid for by unspent Troubled Asset Relief Program funds.

The package will also carry a six-month extension of unemployment insurance, COBRA health benefits and an increase in states' federal medical assistance percentage, which together add about $75 billion to the total.

The Senate, which is debating healthcare reform legislation, is expected to take up the four bills after House approval and possibly pass them this week, but consideration could spill over into the weekend. If the Senate changes any of the four bills the House would have to come back next week to consider them.

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