Congress on Thursday agreed on a measure to keep the government running through the end of the fiscal year. The bill, which also extends the pay freeze on federal employees, now heads to President Obama.
The House put its stamp of approval on the $984 billion spending package that the Senate passed on Wednesday. The legislation maintains the sequester, avoids a government shutdown, and also breaks out specific funding for the appropriations bills dealing with Agriculture; Commerce; Justice and Science; Defense; Homeland Security; and Military Construction and Veterans Affairs.
“Even if a continuing resolution is not the most preferable way to fund the government, I believe this bill is the best we can do under these tricky circumstances,” said House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers, R-Ky., during floor remarks on Thursday. The current continuing resolution keeping the government open expires on March 27.
Both the House and Senate have included provisions that extend the current pay freeze for federal employees and lawmakers through the end of 2013. Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., who worked closely with Ranking Member Richard Shelby, R-Ala., on crafting the Senate bill, said she did not want to include the freeze for feds but that it was necessary to prevent a government shutdown. She likened the CR to the last helicopter leaving a disaster area. “The helicopter couldn’t take off if this modest pay raise was on it. I think this is a terrible mistake,” she said. “I hope that in next year’s regular order, we can make this up. But I want to say to my federal employees, this was a draconian choice.” Maryland is home to 130,000 federal employees.
Obama issued an executive order in late 2012 that would end the two-year salary freeze on March 27 and give civilian federal workers a 0.5 percent raise in 2013. This legislation overturns that executive order. Obama is expected to sign the bill.
The Senate tacked on some amendments aimed at easing the pain of sequestration in some specific areas, including one offered by Sens. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., and Mark Pryor, D-Ark., to shift existing agriculture funds to the Food Safety and Inspection Service so that no inspectors are furloughed because of sequestration. Another amendment restores tuition reimbursement benefits to military service people, a program that was trimmed under sequestration.
Democrats were unhappy that the continuing resolution maintained sequestration. “I remain deeply dissatisfied that sequestration is not addressed and will slash the very priorities I believe all of us came here to fulfill,” said House Appropriations Committee Ranking Member Nita Lowey, D-N.Y. But Lowey, noting the impending March 27 deadline, said she was satisfied that Mikulski “got the best deal that she could at this time” to avoid a government shutdown.