House votes down effort to deny step increases; passes spending bill

After several long days of arduous debate, the House early Saturday morning passed a $1 trillion GOP bill that funds government operations for the remainder of the fiscal year, cuts about $60 billion in discretionary spending, and sets up a standoff with the Democratic-led Senate that threatens to shut down the federal government after March 4.

The bill passed on a pre-dawn 235 -189 vote, with all Democrats and three Republicans opposing the measure.

An amendment offered by Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., that would have prevented funds from being used to pay for step increases in pay for federal employees failed on a vote of 230-191. Amendments offered by Rep. Todd Rokita, R-Ind., that would have eliminated other pay raises and prevented federal employees from engaging in union activities on the job did not come up for a vote, Federal Times reported.

The overall spending measure is designed to replace the current continuing resolution, which expires in two weeks. But with both the House and Senate out next week for the Presidents Day recess, it's unclear there will be enough time to for the two chambers to reach a compromise on how to fund the rest of the fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30.

President Obama has threatened to veto the House bill. Senate Democrats, who have opposed the cuts in the House GOP measure, have begun drafting their own CR, which embraces Obama's proposal to freeze spending for five years.

Given that both the House and Senate are so far apart, one option would be for the House and Senate to agree to a short-term extension of the current CR, which funds the government at fiscal 2010 levels. But House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, appeared to take that option off the table Thursday when he said he would not accept a short-term extension at current levels. His comments were quickly seconded by Senate Minority Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

So now a government shutdown looms unless the House and Senate can quickly strike a deal on a CR for the rest of the fiscal year, or agree on some sort of short-term extension.

Boehner called for an "immediate vote" in the Senate on the House-passed funding measure. "Cutting federal spending is critical to reducing economic uncertainty, encouraging private-sector investment, and creating a better environment for job creation in our country," he said in a statement.

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., signaled that Democrats are determined to block the Republicans' proposed spending cuts. In a statement released by her office, she said the House Republicans' bill "destroys jobs, weakens the middle class, hurts schools and young adults, eliminates assistance to homeless veterans, and diminishes critical investments in our future."

After facing a mountain of nearly 600 amendments when debate began Tuesday afternoon, the House ultimately voted on over 100 amendments. As their Friday labors extended until Saturday morning, the lawmakers agreed to reduce time for debate on most amendments from ten minutes each to six minutes.

One area the House GOP targeted: the president's signature health care law, approving several amendments to block funding for key elements:

  • An amendment by Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., strips funding for the implementation of medical loss ratio restrictions, which limit how much money insurers are permitted to spend on administrative costs. It passed 241-185.
  • An amendment by Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., strips funding in the bill to regulate or promote Health Care Exchanges established in the Democrats healthcare law. It passed 241-184.
  • An amendment by Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Texas, prohibits paying salaries of any officer or employee at the Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight within the Department of Health and Human Services. Burgess said that the agency has increased staff in order to implement "some of the largest and most expensive section of the" healthcare law. His amendment passed 239-182.
  • An amendment by Rep. Joseph Pitts, R-Pa., prohibits funding for federal agencies to designate healthcare essential benefits. It passed 239 -183.

Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., ranking member of the Labor-HHS Appropriations Subcommittee, said she felt like it was "ground hog day" with the GOP's repeated and "duplicative" efforts to re-open debate on the health care law.

The House also approved several amendments relating to the Environmental Protection Agency, including a proposal from Rep. David McKinley R-W.Va., which bars funds for EPA to regulate fossil fuel combustion waste. The amendment, which Democrats argued would stop EPA from identifying coal ash as hazardous waste and prevent any regulation of that waste, passed 239-183.

Other amendments approved by the House include a proposal from Rep. Dan Boren, D-Okla., that bars funds to require manufacturers to report the sale of multiple guns to one person. It passed 277-149.

The House also approved an amendment from Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., that would block funding to implement plans for the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, which was approved 230 to 195. An amendment from Rep. Randy Neugebauer, R-Texas, barring funding for some White House repairs and restorations, passed 362-63.

Several other amendments targeted United Nations.

Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Fla., offered an amendment that would prohibit the use of funds in the bill for the renovations or rental of the United Nation headquarters in New York. The amendment passed 231-191. An amendment from Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer R-Mo., to prohibit funds for the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change passed 244-179.

But a bid from Rep. Paul Broun, R-Ga., to stop the United States from paying dues to the United Nations, failed 234-177. Broun said he wanted to "get the U.S. out of the U.N. and the U.N out of the U.S."

On another issue that has long polarized Congress, Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, failed in his effort to ban funds from being used to enforce the Davis-Bacon Act -- which requires that workers be paid prevailing wages -- on federal construction projects. The vote was 233-189 against King's measure. King argued that "this Congress of austerity" ought to try to reduce federal construction costs. But DeLauro called his amendment another example of a GOP "ideology that irreparably harms working families."

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