By Brian Faler – Dec 15, 2011 2:45 AM CT
House Republicans unveiled a $1 trillion spending bill setting budgets for hundreds of government programs in a bid to force U.S. lawmakers to wrap up their work for the year.
Republicans aim to put the more than 1,200-page spending measure to a vote tomorrow, a move designed to give them an advantage in a separate battle with Democrats over extending an expiring payroll tax cut.
Passing the spending bill would let Republicans leave for their Christmas holiday, increasing pressure on the Democratic-controlled Senate to accept it as well as Republicans’ version of the payroll tax cut. Democrats have been holding up the legislation on concerns that approval would ensure the House recess, forcing them to accept both measures.
A short-term bill funding federal agencies expires tomorrow and without action by Congress, the government will partially shut down. House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers, a Kentucky Republican, said his colleagues want to break the payroll-tax stalemate.
“Hopefully, the Senate will act,” he told reporters yesterday. “But you know how they are. We’re not going to sit around here and wait two weeks, twiddling our thumbs, waiting for the Senate.”
President Barack Obama’s spokesman Dan Pfeiffer said last night in a statement that lawmakers instead ought to pass a short-term budget measure to allow more time for negotiations on the budget bill and the payroll-tax plan.
“Given the magnitude of the legislation — providing over $1 trillion dollars in funding — coupled with the unresolved payroll-tax cut and unemployment insurance extension, Congress should pass a short-term continuing resolution,” Pfeiffer said.
Some Republicans expressed qualms about their party’s strategy. Representative Jeff Flake, an Arizona Republican, said lawmakers will be asked to vote on legislation they won’t have enough time to read. “It goes against a lot of what we’ve said we were going to do,” he said.
The party’s campaign “Pledge to America” last year said “we will end the practice of packaging unpopular bills with ‘must-pass’ legislation” and “instead, we will advance major legislation one issue at a time.”
Democrats are balking at some provisions in the House- passed payroll-tax plan, including plans to expedite construction of an oil pipeline from Canada to Texas, raising Medicare premiums for wealthier retirees and paring unemployment benefits.
The spending measure wraps together nine overdue appropriations bills funding almost 40 percent of the government, including the Departments of Defense, Labor, Education, Homeland Security, Veterans Affairs and others.
Some House Republicans said yesterday they are unsure how many of their colleagues will support the budget plan, which has been criticized for spending too much. More than 100 Republicans, 40 percent of the chamber’s caucus, opposed a spending bill last month, forcing party leaders to rely on Democratic votes for passage.
Representative Tim Huelskamp, a Kansas Republican, said yesterday he was withholding judgment because he wasn’t sure what would be in the legislation, which was released early today.
‘See What’s In It’
“I’m not going to vote for something unless I have a pretty good idea of what’s in it and right now, we don’t,” Huelskamp said. “I’ve got to see what’s in it.”
The budget bill, combined with a related bill passed last month, would cap non-emergency discretionary spending at $1.043 trillion, according to the Republicans’ summary. That would be $7 billion less than last year and the second consecutive year appropriations have declined.
The cuts are larger when compared with inflation, currently 3.5 percent, and the increased demand for government services that comes with population growth.
More than half of the bill is comprised of the Defense Department’s budget, which would increase by $5 billion or about 1 percent to $518 billion. That doesn’t include an additional $115 billion in emergency war funding.
Some of the biggest cuts would come in foreign aid and international programs, one of the politically easiest areas to cut. Funding for the State Department, global health programs, economic assistance and other initiatives would fall by 13 percent, according to Republicans.
Pell grants, which help low-income families send children to college, would be cut by $11 billion over the next decade in part by tightening eligibility criteria.
The Environmental Protection Agency would see a 3 percent cut, which, when combined with reductions approved earlier this year, would mean an 18 percent cut from 2010, according to Republicans. The Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, would receive a 6 percent cut.
The bill also includes a number of policy “riders” including ones targeting the administration’s policies on travel and sending money to Cuba, energy-efficient light bulbs and public funding of abortions in Washington, D.C.
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