WASHINGTON — A snow-shortened week of work for the U.S. House will culminate Wednesday in a vote on a resolution to continue funding the government at its current, post-sequester level through September.
The legislation, called a continuing resolution, is meant to stave off a government shutdown that would come after government funding runs out on March 27. The Republican-proposed bill largely continues current funding but does nothing to stop the $85 billion in cuts that kicked in last week.
However, the bill will move money around to help relieve sequestration-induced stress in some areas. In the Defense Department, for example, several small pockets of spending will be cut in order to move more than $10 billion into a main operations account, giving officials more freedom in how to mitigate the cuts.
Given Republicans’ control of the House the bill is likely to pass Wednesday, before the House releases for the week due to a snow storm. The bill is unlikely to win many Democratic votes, though. While some Democrats have said they actually support the spending levels within the bill (sequester included), members who vote against it will likely do so for one of two reasons:
While some seem generally willing to accept the sequestration cuts, they’ve objected to the idea that only Defense should have such flexibility to administer them.
Rep. Tim Walz, for example, said the level of cuts is acceptable especially since lawmakers began “recognizing that the Department of Defense needed some flexibility to implement these cuts.” But, “so does the Department of Ag, so does the Department of Ed, so does the Department of Energy,” he said. “It’s not a commitment to back away from the cuts, it’s a question of backing away from the idiocy of sequestration, so I think that’s what we’re trying to do.”
More liberal members are likely to object to the very idea that the cuts will stand in any form.
Rep. Betty McCollum, for example, said in a statement that she’ll vote against the bill because it’s “nothing but an extension of the GOP sequestration strategy of strangling vital services and killing jobs (750,000 this year) so they can protect tax breaks for the wealthy.”
McCollum, the only Minnesotan on the House Appropriations Committee, also considers the bill a “failure of the process,” her chief of staff said. The appropriations process gives Congress the power to decide spending levels, but the continuing resolution will cede part of that power to the executive branch.
Because of sequestration, the bill would fund the government at a lower level than the one agreed upon during past budget negotiations, which has lead to objections from some members of Democratic House leadership.
“The CR basically is at bottom, adopting the sequester and is inconsistent with the agreement that we made when we passed the Budget Control Act in 2011,” Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer said Tuesday. “This violates that agreement and really does not fix the irrationality of the sequester, which everybody seems to think is bad.”
Still, Hoyer said leadership was not encouraging Democrats to vote against the measure Wednesday, suggesting they’re not so upset about the bill as to actively build opposition to it.
No veto threat
Technically, the continuing resolution is fairly straightforward. It continues current funding levels through September, but accepts that sequestration will eventually winnow it down by $85 billion, to $982 billion total. (The Hill breaks down the intricacies of the bill here). While it gives the Department of Defense a bit of breathing room to deal with the sequester, it has no such mechanism for non-defense spending, like education grants or funding for the Federal Aviation Administration or Food and Drug Administration, some of the highest-profile areas set to absorb sequestration cuts.
On Tuesday, Senate Democrats and the White House welcomed the bill cautiously, agreeing with the spending levels but cool on the way it deals sequestration. Senate leaders said they’ll likely make changes to the bill rather than vote on the House version.
Though the White House said it is “deeply concerned” about the bill, it promised to work with Congress to tweak the package — much softer language than the usual veto threat it issues before votes on major GOP priorities.
Republicans had heralded the bill as a victory for the party’s ultimate goal of cutting spending, but agreed with Democrats on one thing: they want to avoid brinksmanship that might push the country toward a government shutdown at the end of the month.
“Spending is the problem here in Washington, and our goal is to cut spending, not shut the government down,” House Speaker John Boehner said.
Devin Henry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @dhenry