Lawmakers settle for short-term spending measure

Senate Republicans object to the size of a full-year bill and inclusion of $1 billion they say would help implement the health reform law.

By Doug Trapp — Posted Jan. 10, 2011

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Congress adopted a short-term measure on Dec. 21, 2010, to fund the federal government only through March 4, setting up an immediate spending debate among the new Republican-controlled House, the Democratic-controlled Senate and President Obama.

Federal lawmakers settled for the 2½-month spending measure instead of a $1.2 trillion appropriations bill to fund the government through Sept. 30 -- the end of fiscal 2011 -- because Senate Republicans objected to the size of the full-year bill.

They also objected to the inclusion of $1 billion that Republicans said would go toward implementing the health system reform law, and $8 billion in so-called earmark requests from specific lawmakers. Some of the earmarks had been requested earlier in the year by Republican senators who eventually came to oppose the long-term funding measure and demand a short-term extension.

The Senate approved the short-term measure 79-16 on Dec. 21, 2010, with 25 Republicans supporting it and two Democrats opposing it. The House approved it 193-165, with one Republican voting for it, 19 Democrats voting against it and 75 members not voting.

The short-term extension maintains most federal spending at fiscal 2010 levels, according to Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Daniel Inouye (D, Hawaii).

Democrats had introduced the full-year spending bill on Dec. 14, 2010, but they withdrew it three days later when they realized they did not have the 60 votes needed to overcome a Republican filibuster in the Senate.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R, Ky.) said voters elected Republicans to become the House majority and shrank the Democrats' Senate majority because people want reduced federal spending and smaller deficits.

"The voters don't want us to wait to cut spending and debt and fight the health care bill next October -- they want us to do these things immediately," he said.

However, Rep. David Obey (D, Wis.), outgoing chair of the House Appropriations Committee, said adoption of the short-term spending measure means a partisan debate about the budget will continue to drag on. Instead, he said, the new GOP House majority could be working with the president on finding bipartisan solutions to a host of major problems.

"Most of next year will simply be about demonstrating political leverage rather than working through honest, substantive differences to reasonable conclusions," he added.

The full-year budget measure would have increased the National Institutes of Health budget by $750 million to reach nearly $32 billion, said Jennifer Zeitzer, director of legislative relations for the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology.

The president requested a $1 billion increase, which the House and Senate Appropriations Committees backed.

The short-term measure does not include $142 million in increases for the Indian Health Service, which would have supported new initiatives such as chronic disease prevention and assistance for urban Native American clinics.

Temporary funding extensions for the federal government disrupt the long-term planning of NIH and other agencies, Zeitzer said.

"It's overall a very disruptive process for the scientific community," she said.

Inouye said adopting a short-term funding measure at 2010 levels wastes the many hours of committee hearings and staff meetings held to draft a full-year budget.

"This is no way to run a government," he said. "The United States of America is not a second-rate nation."

Inouye noted the proposed omnibus bill reduced earmarks to $8 billion, or about 35% below fiscal 2010 levels, and was $29 billion below Obama's fiscal 2011 request.

The short-term funding measure is less expensive largely because it has more limited military spending than the long-term measure, he said.

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