By Humberto Sanchez
December 21, 2010The House Tuesday passed a continuing resolution that would fund the federal government through March 4, sending the measure to President Obama for his signature.
The bill was approved 193-165 with little debate. Members of both parties used most of the time to bid an impromptu farewell to retiring Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., chairman of the Appropriations Committee. Obey, known for his quick temper and passion for progressive causes, gave his last speech on the House floor after more than 40 years in Congress.
House action on the bill came after the Senate approved the package 79-16, with 14 Republicans and two Democrats-Sens. Russell Feingold of Wisconsin and Ben Nelson of Nebraska-voting against the CR.
The short-term CR was forced by Senate Republicans who want to start enacting campaign promises to slash the federal budget in fiscal 2011, rather than wait until fiscal 2012. Next year, Republicans will control the House and have increased numbers in the Senate.
Democrats had sought to pass an omnibus measure-made up of all 12 annual appropriations bills-but Republicans killed the proposal after pulling back initial support for it. The move required Democrats to move the CR to stave off a government shutdown.
"I am glad we avoided a potential government shutdown and were able to come to a short-term agreement on a continuing resolution," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. "But it is a shame that Republicans have shirked their duty to responsibly fund the government, and kicked this can down the road."
Obey urged support for the measure, but he warned that the short-term CR means that the "early days of the next Congress will be unnecessarily confrontational and partisan."
The omnibus included funding to implement Democratic-written financial regulatory reform and health care overhaul laws, but the CR does not.
"Anytime you have a short-term measure to fund the yearlong capacity of government, it creates complications," White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said at a briefing Tuesday. "That is why I said late last week that a short-term continuing resolution was something that was far less than the ideal in providing certainty. But over the course of the next several months [Office of Management and Budget Director] Jack Lew and the budget office will work with Congress to ensure the necessary funding for critical government operations."
Funding for most programs would continue at fiscal 2010 enacted levels under the CR, according to the Senate Appropriations Committee. In total, the measure would provide funding at a rate approximately $1.16 billion over the previous year's level.
The CR also extends authorizations or allows for continuous normal operations through March 4 for certain programs that would otherwise expire or be severely disrupted.
For example, the measure ensures that the Health and Human Services Department obligates the same amount for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program during the CR as it did during the same period in fiscal 2010.
The CR would provide funding to continue the maximum Pell Grant award at the same level as in fiscal 2010 and adjusts the current rate of operations for the Veterans Benefits Administration to $2.1 billion, an increase of $460 million over the fiscal 2010 appropriation, to prevent layoffs of claims processors and to support efforts in reducing the processing times of disability claims.
Another provision would prevent elimination of more than $4.3 billion of reduced-fee loans for small businesses that would otherwise expire. The bill also ensures adequate funding to prevent significant scaling back of critical audits and investigations of the Troubled Asset Relief Program.
The measure begins a two-year pay freeze for federal civilian employees that President Obama sought.
By Humberto Sanchez
December 21, 2010