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Government Spending Bill Passed By Congress As Democrats Declare Victory

Harry Reid

First Posted: 12/17/2011 10:46 am Updated: 12/19/2011 7:12 am

UPDATE - House Republicans are threatening to reject the payroll tax cut and unemployment insurance extension deal approved by the Senate, according to GOP sources. The House GOP convened a conference call Saturday afternoon, where rank-and-file members expressed open hostility to the bargain. Neither House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) or Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) is interested in fighting for a deal cut by Senate Leaders Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) with little of their input. GOP sources said that passage of the Senate bill was highly unlikely, and that House Republicans are more likely either to amend it and return it next week, or appoint conferees to find a compromise.

WASHINGTON -- The Senate passed a last-minute bill Saturday to fund the federal government, and Democrats were privately patting themselves on the back for what they see as victories in cleansing partisan ideological add-ons from the measure.

Democrats believe the bill, which passed 67 to 32 and was the final major piece of legislation of the year, hands them a slew of points to use heading into the 2012 election season.

"There were a lot of ideological riders, and other nasty things in there that we got stripped from the bill," said one Democratic aide familiar with the negotiations.

The trillion-dollar "omnibus bill" passed the House overwhelmingly Friday, and President Obama is expected to sign it soon before going on vacation.

"The GOP came in with an aggressive agenda and both in April and now today, the president and Democratic negotiators held their ground," said another Democrat, referring to budget battles last spring. The senior aide added that they "made sure that extreme, ideological riders that had nothing to do with funding the government were removed."

"Priorities like health care reform, Wall Street reform and education were funded," said the aide, speaking anonymously Friday night because negotiations over tax cuts and other items were ongoing.

In fact, such items had all faced major cuts in the original bills passed by the House.

Perhaps the most-heavily targeted agency was the Environmental Protection Agency, which faced funding cuts of more than $1.5 billion. It still wound up with a substantial cut, but ended up with a budget above $8 billion, instead of the GOP's proposed $7.15 billion.

And removed from the bill were dozens of environmental riders that would have done things like allow mining around the Grand Canyon, controversial mountaintop mining practices blamed for harming streams and water quality, removal of protections for gray wolves, and prevention of the EPA from regulating certain greenhouse gas emissions.

On the Wall Street front, Republicans sought to weaken the new Consumer Financial Protection Board, which they contend has too much authority. They also would have cut back and weakened the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, which plays a central role under last year's financial reforms in regulating risky derivatives trading. Both agencies were preserved by today's bill.

One source said the White House was especially pleased that money was preserved for the president's Race to the Top education initiative, which rewards schools for innovative reform plans. "Republicans were bragging about cutting Race to the Top in their bill, although how it's good to cut education, I don't know," a Democratic source said.

The bill also added money to the health reform law, instead of cutting it.

The Democrats provided an extensive list of what they see as bragging points, saying the bill:

  • Prevents policy riders that would have restricted funding for Planned Parenthood and eliminated funding for Title X family planning programs, severely limiting women’s access to health care.
  • Prevents restrictions that would have reversed President Obama’s policy allowing family travel and money remittances to Cuba.
  • Saves 60,000 New Head Start slots created by the stimulus act and spends more than $550 million for the Race to the Top program.
  • Boosts the Student Aid Administration with nearly $50 million in new funding for loan servicing and collections.
  • Preserves the AmeriCorps program by stopping a GOP provision that would have cut the program.

They also pointed to a string of riders that were cut from the bill, including items that would have:

  • Barred use of funds for the CPSC's public product safety database, SaferProducts.gov.
  • Cut federal funding of National Public Radio
  • Stopped a new military chaplain training curriculum written after the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell
  • Ended the Home Affordable Modification Program, which aims to help homewoners avoid foreclosure
  • Prohibited use federal funds to develop and finalize EPA rules naming coal ash as a hazardous waste
  • Stopped the FCC from implementing new neutrality rules
  • Stopped federal spending to run and implement the heath reform law until 90 days after any legal challenges are complete.

Republicans also declared wins in adding many other restrictions, including blocking a phaseout of 100-watt incandescent lightbulbs, stopping express funding for a number of President Obama's "czars," cutting the budget overall, and placing restrictions on funding for the United Nations.

Yet it was some of the things that made it into the bill that attracted scathing denunciations from Republicans concerned about waste, especially in the defense budget.

"We have 15 minutes to consider a document 1,221 pages long, representing $915 billion of the taxpayers' money, filled with unauthorized, unrequested money," said Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.)

"There's $3.5 billion of unrequested, unauthorized [spending] ... projects like for Guam. You thought the Bridge to Nowhere was bad?" McCain said. "This is 53 civilian school buses and 53 repair kits for $10.7 million; $12.7 million for a cultural artifacts repository. That's in the name of defense.

"I have amendments to save the taxpayers billions of dollars as associated with this bill," McCain said. "But never mind because we're going to go home for Christmas."

President Obama was expected to address the bill Saturday afternoon.

Michael McAuliff covers politics and Congress for the Huffington Post. Talk to him on Facebook.

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