Politics

House passes 6-month plan for spending; few cuts shifted

Representative Paul Ryan’s budget proposal for next year clashes dramatically with one offered by Senator Patty Murray, the first annual budget advanced by Senate Democrats in three years.
Representative Paul Ryan’s budget proposal for next year clashes dramatically with one offered by Senator Patty Murray, the first annual budget advanced by Senate Democrats in three years.

WASHINGTON — Congress approved a shortterm funding bill Thursday that ends the possibility of a federal government shutdown next week. But a broader budget battle about taxes and spending for the year is just beginning.

The stopgap spending resolution, approved on a broad bipartisan vote in the House, locks in the $85 billion across-the-board spending cuts known as the sequester through the Sept. 30 end of the fiscal year.

But the legislation includes provisions that will blunt their impact. Within hours of the bill’s passage, the Defense Department announced that furlough notices scheduled to go out Friday to 800,000 civilian workers will be delayed until April 5.

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That will give officials time to see whether the new budget will still require 22 unpaid days or could result in fewer lost days for workers.

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Congress’s action also halted furloughs for thousands of meat inspectors by transferring $55 million from other agriculture programs to ensure meat and poultry plants stay open, agriculture officials said.

The meat lobby, as well as Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, pressed the issue with Congress and the Obama administration, saying the furloughs threatened a multibillion-dollar industry and would have forced an increase in meat prices.

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Senator Patty Murray

The House vote, which provides funding for the government for the six months starting March 28, came a day after the Senate approved the bill.

It now goes to President Obama for his signature, ending a relatively smooth and drama-free process for a Congress that has repeatedly found itself deadlocked on spending issues.

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Still, the measure covers only the next six months.

Lawmakers are debating how much to tax and spend for the years to come. On Thursday, the House also approved a budget blueprint by Representative Paul Ryan, Republican of Wisconsin, in a mostly partisan 221 to 207 vote.

Ten Republicans joined House Democrats in opposing the Ryan budget measure.

Ryan’s plan calls for balancing the budget over the decade by slicing $5 trillion from future spending, including by shifting more of the Medicaid program to the states and overhauling Medicare for people 54 and younger.

Conservatives had insisted that the Ryan plan lock in a balanced budget within the next 10 years.

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His spending proposals of the past two years took at least 30 years to bring spending into line with government revenue.

Democrats slammed Ryan’s plan as too austere — particularly its proposal to end Medicare as a guaranteed benefit for seniors. They said voters defeated that idea in the presidential election in November.

The Ryan proposal clashes dramatically with a budget proposal offered by Senate Democrats that will face a vote as soon as Friday.

The first budget put forward by Senate Democrats in three years, the proposal by Patty Murray of Washington, would raise taxes by nearly $1 trillion over the next decade in an effort to stabilize deficits but would not balance the budget in that time.

Trying to reconcile those two visions will consume Washington in the coming months, as leaders warily look to the next fiscal showdown: the yet-to-be-determined deadline, somewhere in the late summer, when the Treasury will be out of options to manage the federal debt and need congressional approval to increase its borrowing authority.

As Congress prepared to leave for a two-week holiday recess, the attention was fixed on Congress’s success in solving an immediate problem: ensuring the government remains funded.

‘‘This is a good bill. I’m proud of it. I’m proud of the fact that we’ve been able to do all this frankly as smoothly as it’s gone,’’ Appropriations Committee chairman Harold Rogers, Republican of Kentucky, told colleagues on the House floor.

The resolution will somewhat blunt the impact of the sequester by adding money to certain programs just before the across-the-board reduction hits. But all additional money was offset with reductions elsewhere.

Defense officials have been saying that the across-the-board spending cuts would force them to furlough civilian employees for up to 22 days.

The overall size of the cuts will remain the same, but the Pentagon will add $10.4 billion to its operations and maintenance budget.