WASHINGTON – The House last week approved a $1.05 trillion spending bill to keep the federal government running through March 27.
The bill, which is expected to clear the Senate this week, essentially defers any substantive work on the federal budget into the next Congress.
During debate, lawmakers pointed fingers at those they blamed for Congress being unable to complete federal spending bills in time, making it necessary to pass a stopgap measure.
House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers, R-Ky., said he was “deeply disappointed” that the next fiscal year would begin on Oct. 1 without a completed budget, and he blamed the Senate for the inaction.
“The Senate failed to act on any of the 12 appropriations bills this year, instead choosing to default on their most basic fiscal duty in the name of election-year politics,” he said.
Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio, put the blame on House Republicans for backing a “totally irresponsible” budget bill crafted by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., which reduced spending beyond levels set by the 2011 Budget Control Act.
“House leadership wasted precious floor time with fiscal ’13 appropriation bills that everyone knew were destined to languish,” Kaptur said.
The stopgap bill, approved 329-91, contains $19 billion more than the Ryan budget.
Rogers said the additional funding was essential, providing more funds for wildfire suppression, veterans’ disability claims, natural disaster recovery, nutrition programs and winter heating assistance.
The legislation also blocks the Air Force from retiring or shifting aircraft from National Guard and Reserve units.
Reps. Mark Amodei, R-Nev.; Joe Heck, R-Nev.; and Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., voted for the bill.
HOUSE APPROVES SURVEILLANCE LAW
The House approved a five-year extension of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act that allows warrantless government monitoring of overseas emails and telephone calls.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith, R-Texas, said the law is needed to allow intelligence officials to quickly and effectively monitor electronic communications of foreign terrorists and spies.
“The information we gather ensures that we can stop terrorists before they are able to carry out attacks against our infrastructure or innocent Americans,” he said.
Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., argued against the five-year extension, saying the law raises both constitutional and civil liberties issues that Congress has not addressed.
As an example, she said government agents could use FISA to circumvent warrants by targeting a non-U.S. citizen to gather information on a U.S. citizen at the other end of the line.
The five-year extension was supported by the Obama administration and cleared the House Intelligence Committee unanimously.
The bill passed, 301-118, with Amodei, Heck and Berkley voting for it.
SENATE CONSIDERS VETERANS JOBS BILL
The Senate spent much of last week debating legislation aimed at helping veterans find work.
The bill would set aside $1 billion in federal grants to create a Veterans Jobs Corps as well as provide other assistance to jobless veterans – particularly those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Senate leaders hope to complete action on the bill when they return to session on Wednesday.
Contact Stephens Washington Bureau reporter Peter Urban at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 202-783-1760.