WASHINGTON — Arkansas lawmakers were divided on a $1.01 trillion spending bill passed Wednesday by the House intended to fund the federal government through the rest of the 2014 fiscal year and avoid another potential government shutdown.
The bill passed on a 359-67 vote, as most Republicans and Democrats conceded that, while imperfect, the bill reached an acceptable compromise for all sides. Those opposed complained about specific spending issues as well as other concerns.
Reps. Steve Womack, R-Rogers, and Tim Griffin, R-Little Rock, voted in favor of the bill. Reps. Tom Cotton, R-Dardanelle, and Rick Crawford, R-Jonesboro, voted against it. The bill now goes to the Senate.
Congress also approved a three-day extension of current spending to tide the federal government over as the full-year plan is finalized. The “continuing resolution” now in place is about to expire.
“In Washington, we often let the perfect be the enemy of the good. This has been especially true in this divided government, which has prevented Congress from doing what we were sent here to do: Govern,” said Womack, a member of the House Appropriations Committee. “Instead of digging in our heels, we have to come together to work for the good.”
The bill, which combines about a dozen annual spending bills into one, would reduce discretionary spending for the fourth consecutive year, provides no new funding for the Affordable Care Act and prohibits federal spending on abortions, he noted.
“While it does not go far enough and is definitely not perfect — few compromises are — I supported the bill because it’s another good step in the right direction,” Womack said.
Crawford said he was reluctant to support a bill without having enough time to review it. The bill is more than 1,500 pages long and was not made public until Tuesday.
He said he was disappointed that it does not tackle mandatory spending programs that, according to Crawford, continue to drive up the federal debt.
“I will continue to push for permanent spending controls that make it more difficult for Congress to create new budget-busting entitlement spending, which has been the hallmark of Congress for many decades and why our nation finds itself in this fiscal mess today,” he said.
Griffin said the bill reduces discretionary spending by $46 billion from levels set by the 2011 Budget Control Act, shrinking federal spending by $53 billion less than in fiscal 2008 when adjusted for inflation.
“This is significant and makes this agreement worthy of support,” Griffin said.
Crawford and Cotton also opposed the budget bill because it would reduce cost-of-living increases to the pensions of able-bodied veterans, a spending reduction agreed to in the budget resolution Congress recently adopted.
The budget resolution also called for a reduction to cost-of-living increases for pensions of disabled veterans, but lawmakers negotiating the final spending bill dropped that proposal.
Cotton said the bill would add $45 billion to the federal deficit and potentially cost Arkansas counties payments they receive, in lieu of taxes, on property owned by the federal government. He also opposed any reduction to military pensions.
“Our military should not be the first and only group to see such cuts. And Arkansans should not settle for the short end of the stick, more deficit spending and potentially higher local taxes. I oppose this legislation, and I will keep fighting for spending discipline and for Arkansas’ best interests,” Cotton said.
Griffin said the bill takes the “first step” toward restoring all veterans COLAs by exempting medically retired veterans from the pension cut. He pledged to continue fighting for a fix for all veterans.
House Republican leaders sought to allay concerns states have about receiving payment in lieu of taxes. Funding for the program has expired but, they said, will be fixed through the farm bill that is still being negotiated.
House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., took to the floor Wednesday and pledged that it is his intention to provide funding for the program in the final conference, and that it has the backing of House Republican leadership.
“I am very much aware of the importance of this program for rural America,” Lucas said.
The federal government is exempt from state taxation, so lawmakers established the PILT program to compensate for lost property taxes on federal lands. In 2013, the federal government sent $5.84 million to 62 Arkansas counties where it owns nearly 3.3 million acres of land.