After Snag, Senate Moving on Bill to Avert Shutdown, Extend Pay Freeze

GOP Sens. John McCain, right, and Tom Coburn, had requested more time to review the Democratic proposal. GOP Sens. John McCain, right, and Tom Coburn, had requested more time to review the Democratic proposal. Alex Brandon/AP File Photo

The Senate on Wednesday morning was opening its debate on a bill to keep government funded -- and extend the pay freeze on federal employees -- through Sept. 30, after Republicans dropped objections to proceeding. 

A final vote on the bill could come by Thursday, and then it would go over to the House.

A motion to proceed with floor deliberations was adopted by unanimous consent after Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma dropped his hold. Both he and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., had said on the Senate floor Tuesday night they wanted more time to study the 587-page resolution. They later asserted in a joint statement that the bill contains “egregious” so-called pork-barrel projects, as well as “hundreds of millions in spending that was never authorized by the appropriate committee and not requested by the administration.”

On the floor Tuesday, for instance, McCain questioned what he said was inclusion of $120 million for various infrastructure improvements in Guam, even though the House and Senate Armed Services Committees explicitly prohibited this funding.

A McCain spokesman said Wednesday that those concerns will be addressed in amendments the senators are planning to offer.

Technically, the Senate bill is a substitute for a House measure passed last week to avoid a shutdown when the current stop-gap funding measure expires March 27. The legislation was filed late Monday night by Senate Appropriations Committee leaders from both parties.

Like its House counterpart, the legislation caps spending at $1.043 trillion, subject to the sequester cuts that kicked in March 1 – which would bring the spending down to roughly $984 billion.

It also mirrors provisions in the House bill that would allow for more-flexible spending on defense and veterans’ affairs. However, the Senate bill goes further, extending flexibility to other agencies that handle agriculture, homeland security, as well as commerce, justice, and science programs.

If the Senate passes the bill this week, floor action in the House could come next week. Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., has indicated that cross-chamber talks – but not an official conference committee – would be launched to iron out differences.

House Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers, R-Ky., has signaled he could support the changes in the Senate bill.

Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, had last week warned the Senate Democrats not to “get greedy” by adding provisions to the already-passed House version.

“The Senate has not passed a bill. When they do, we’ll take a look at it,” said Boehner spokesman Michael Steel, when asked about whether the Speaker could support the Senate legislation.

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