POLITICS

House OKs funding bill as President Obama, GOP work to avoid government shutdown

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Politics,Congress,Susan Ferrechio,Politics Digest

The House on Wednesday passed a $982 billion temporary spending bill that would avert a government shutdown at month's end but that also incorporates the $85 billion in spending cuts that the White House claimed would devastate government operations and the economic recovery.

The bill, known as a continuing resolution, passed 267-151 over the objection of most Democrats, who wanted the spending cuts removed.

Republicans insisted the cuts remain, but they included provisions that would ease the pain at the Pentagon by allowing military leaders to decide which critical operations and training programs needed funding and which could be cut.

"It's not perfect, but it takes us a long step toward helping to ensure our national security," said House Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard McKeon, R-Calif.

The bill now moves to the Senate, where Democratic leaders are likely make changes before voting on it. Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski declined to say whether she would accept the spending levels included in the House bill. And while Democrats oppose the spending cuts, it appears unlikely that they will fight Republicans over the measure -- which President Obama has already suggested he'll sign.

"We have bipartisan bicameral conversations going on" about the bill, said Mikulski, D-Md. "What it will look like, I can't tell you yet."

After failing to strike a deal that would have avoided the so-called sequestration budget cuts, neither Congress nor the White House wants to be blamed for allowing the government to shut down as soon as its temporary funding expires March 27.

Obama, who repeatedly warned that the sequestration budget cuts would devastate the nation, is now hinting that he would sign the Republican funding measure even though it includes those cuts and none of the tax increases the president sought.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, stepped up pressure on the Senate on Wednesday to pass the House bill.

"Today the House has taken the first step towards assuring the American people that the federal government will stay open, which President Obama agrees should be our shared goal," Boehner said.

House Democrats are not happy about the reductions and argued on the House floor Wednesday that the cuts will hurt the neediest people who depend on these government programs for child care, childhood vaccinations, job training and more.

"If you vote yes, you vote for $400 million in cuts to Head Start," said Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., referring to the federally funded early education program. "Seventy thousand children will lose access."

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers, R-Ky., said lawmakers would continue to negotiate with Obama over ongoing sequestration budget cuts that are supposed to reduce spending by $1.2 trillion over the next decade.

The White House and Congress have been feuding for years over a variety of financial issues from deficit reduction to tax increases and in each case weren't able to reach agreement until the last minute, if then. In contrast to that acrimonious relationship, Obama was scheduled to dine with Republican senators Wednesday night and will visit Capitol Hill next week to continue those talks.

"This is a bill to keep the government operating while we debate how to deal with sequestration," Rogers said. "And to help the military cope with sequestration so our nation is adequately defended by our men and women in uniform."

sferrechio@washingtonexaminer.com

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