Congress Avoids Government Shutdown
Acting with surprisingly more diligence and cooperation than one might have anticipated given recent history, Congress has managed to once again avoid a government shutdown:
Congress approved and sent to the White House on Thursday a stopgap spending bill to avert any threat of a government shutdown next week and keep agencies funded through September in the wake of automatic cuts ordered under sequestration.
Final passage came on a 318-109 vote in the House, as top Republicans opted to embrace significant changes approved by the Senate on Wednesday rather than risk further delay.
The quick action is a major breakthrough for the bipartisan leadership of the House and Senate Appropriations committees, which found themselves kicked to the curb in the previous Congress as the entire budget process collapsed under the pressure of the 2012 elections.
The measure replaces the current continuing resolution with a much more updated alignment of appropriations for the last six months of the fiscal year. Overshadowed by the partisan fight now over taxes and entitlements, it redefines the landscape for sequestration and is the closest thing to a real budget that Congress will have produced for the current fiscal year ending Sept. 30.
The biggest dollar impact will be at the Pentagon, where billions are moved about to help the military services cope with depleted operations accounts. But on the nondefense side of the budget, the bill makes scores of changes as well, including new initiatives that run from investments in a polar icebreaker and cybersecurity to aid to Syrian rebels and improved embassy security overseas.
Powerful interests rode this same train, even as President Barack Obama paid a price for his diffidence toward the appropriations process.
The White House failed to get added money it wanted to implement health care and Wall Street reforms. At the same time, Monsanto, large meat packers and pro-gun forces — with strong Republican help — won special interest legislative provisions attached to the package, which fills close to 600 pages.
Most important for many liberal Democrats, the bill leaves in place the machinery of sequestration that took effect March 1. Indeed, the $1.043 trillion allocated across the government in the bill is closer to $984 billion once those cuts are factored into the equation.
Now, we just have to deal with another debt ceiling showdown sometime after May, and trying to put together a Fiscal Year 2014 budget.