WASHINGTON – The House Thursday passed a huge spending measure combining major boosts for domestic agencies and foreign aid with more than 5,000 back-home projects sought by lawmakers.
The 1,088-page, $1.1 trillion measure would provide $447 billion in operating budgets for 10 Cabinet departments, awarding increases averaging almost 10 percent. On top of that comes more than $600 billion in payments for federal benefit programs such as Medicare and Medicaid.
The 221-202 vote to approve the House-Senate compromise bill sends it to the Senate, which immediately voted 56-43 to begin debate. That tally could mean trouble for the bill since it is less than the 60 votes needed to break a GOP filibuster.
Not a single House Republican voted for the bill and no Senate Republican voted to begin debate. Some 28 House Democrats opposed the measure, as did three Senate Democrats. Democrats were confident senior Republicans on the Appropriations Committee would provide help on key votes this weekend.
"We'll get 60 votes," said Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.
The measure comes on top of an infusion of cash to domestic agencies in February's economic stimulus bill and a $410 billion measure in March that also bestowed budget increases well above inflation.
"When are we going to say, 'Enough is enough?'" said House GOP Leader John Boehner of Ohio. "Let's stop the madness."
Blending increases for veterans' programs, NASA and the FBI with a pay raise for federal workers and help for car dealers, the legislation wraps together six of the 12 annual appropriations bills. Just the $626 billion defense bill would remain. That's being held back to serve as a vehicle to advance must-pass legislation such as an increase in the national debt.
Democrats made no apologies for all the largess, saying that domestic programs starved under eight years of President George W. Bush.
"I see these bills as an opportunity to reverse years of neglect — neglect to our roads and bridges, neglect to our lower income neighbors and friends, neglect to our education system, neglect to our veterans," said Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass.
There's plenty of cash remaining, however, from the stimulus bill. Republicans have urged a spending freeze for the approximately one-third of the budget passed via the appropriations bills.
Democrats forced a $151 million cut to Obama's almost $2.8 billion request for economic and security aid to Afghanistan this week. Obama's $1.6 billion request for aid to Pakistan would be cut $124 million. But Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey, D-Wis. — a top skeptic of the Afghanistan war — said the cuts were not intended as a rebuke to Obama.
"Not at all," Obey said.
For the 789 Chrysler dealers closed in June and more than 1,350 GM dealers expected to be shut down next year, the bill would offer an improved binding arbitration process to challenge the automakers' decisions.
Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, protested a provision to let Amtrak passengers carry handguns in their checked baggage, provided the guns are unloaded and locked in a secure container. The policy would go into place within a year.
The bill caps a heated debate over Obama's order to close the Guantanamo Bay jail in Cuba. It would permit detainees held at Guantanamo to be transferred to the United States to stand trial but not to be released.
Republicans also blasted moves by Democrats to drop several social policy provisions that conservatives had championed for years. A long-standing ban on the funding of abortion by the District of Columbia government would be overturned, as would a ban on that city's needle exchange programs. It would phase out a Washington, D.C., school voucher program favored by Republicans and opens the door for the city to permit medical marijuana.
It would also lift a nationwide ban on the use of federal funds for needle-exchange programs.
Federal workers would receive pay increases averaging 2 percent, with people in areas where it's expensive to live receiving slightly more.
Republicans claimed the measure would mean a 33 percent increase for foreign aid and the State Department, but once emergency funding shuffles are taken into account, the increase is more like 10 to 15 percent.
The increases to foreign aid were not directed at individual countries as much as initiatives such as health programs, food aid and developmental assistance for poor countries, and additional foreign service officers.
The measure rejects most spending cuts suggested in May by Obama. A program that delivers heating subsidies for the poor would receive $5.1 billion, almost 40 percent more than Obama requested.
Obama also sought to kill a program that helps states with the cost of jailing illegal immigrants charged with crimes, currently budgeted at $400 million. Lawmakers cut it by $70 million.