WASHINGTON — Two Minnesota lawmakers, Democrat Keith Ellison and Republican Chip Cravaack, voted Friday against a $900 billion spending bill that will fund the government through next September. The bill otherwise passed the House 296-121, and every other Minnesotan voted for it (except the absent Michele Bachmann).
Ellison and Cravaack voted against the bill for starkly different reasons. Ellison equated the bill to austerity and said it cut too much from the budget. Cravaack opposed it because of a series of policy provisions that were either attached to it or missing from the bill.
“It is in line with this whole move toward austerity that I fundamentally disagree with,” Ellison said. “I think we need to be trying to figure out how to grow jobs. I’m not against cuts, I am for them, [but] these are all the wrong cuts and they impose some real pain.”
Ellison, a co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said Congress should be focused on ways to spur the economy and create jobs. He said he assumed the bill would pass without his support, but didn’t want to vote against his convictions.
“I don’t want to say, ‘Yeah, this is thumbs up, this is the way it should be,’ or even close,” he said. “It doesn’t have to be all my way, but this is 180 degrees from the way we should be doing this.”
Cravaack, meanwhile, objected most strongly to several policy measures, called “riders,” that were either attached or missing from the bill. The bill contained a rider allowing the Obama administration to divert money away from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund to other infrastructure project. The bill was missing a rider that would allow Minnesota to delist the gray wolf from protection under the Endangered Species Act. The bill also cut funding for Forest Service timber sales programs and, more broadly, “spent $915 billion without any substantive reforms,” Cravaack said in a statement
“Next time the conference committee meets behind closed doors it should take into greater consideration the needs of the 8th Congressional District.”
All told, Congress cut $31 billion in discretionary spending over the 2011 fiscal year. Republican leadership praised the budget as the first in modern history to cut federal spending in back-to-back years.
The bill contains no earmarks, but does have a series of the controversial policy “riders,” including one stopping new efficiency standards for light bulbs, one of Bachmann’s pet projects (more info on the riders can be found here).
The most controversial rider, though, which banned Cuban-American travel to Cuba, was removed from the bill during negotiations.
The last major work on Congress’s docket this year is the extension of a payroll tax cut and unemployment benefits. Republicans on Friday said they would only support the measures if Democrats and Obama allowed the Keystone XL oil pipeline project to go forward, though Obama opposes the project.
Lawmakers were also considering enacting a two-month extension of the tax cut and unemployment benefits, which would allow them to take up the issue again after the New Year.
Devin Henry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @dhenry