WASHINGTON — The House last week approved the blueprints for a two-year budget that seeks to break the gridlock in Congress over spending and reduce the threat of another government shutdown.
Lawmakers voted 332-94 for an agreement that authorizes $1.012 trillion in spending for federal departments in 2014, and $1.014 trillion in 2015.
The compromise restores $63 billion in spending that would have been cut under previous law. The spending would be offset with $85 billion in revenues from other areas such as reducing cost of living increases for military veterans, increasing fees paid by airline passengers and hiking what companies pay to have their pensions guaranteed by Uncle Sam.
The final product was advertised as only a modest step. It did not address tax reform nor major changes in entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare. Still, the bill won backing from members of both parties weary of budget warfare that climaxed with the 16-day government shutdown in October.
Supportive Democrats said it eased automatic budget cuts put in place by the 2001 “sequester” law. Supportive Republicans said on the whole it will provide $23 billion towards reducing the deficit.
Some Democrats opposing the bill were unhappy it did not include an extension in unemployment benefits that expire for 1.3 million jobless people on Dec. 28. Some Republicans were unhappy their party was taking its foot off the gas in its drive for deeper cuts in federal spending.
Reps. Tim Griffin, R-Little Rock and Steve Womack, R-Rogers voted for the bill. Reps. Rick Crawford, R-Jonesboro and Tom Cotton, R-Dardanelle, voted against it.
The Senate was expected to vote on the bill in the week ahead.
Kids Cancer Bill Approved
The House voted 295-103 to redirect $126 million into pediatric health research.
The Gabriella Miller Kids First Research Act was named after a 10-year-old girl in Virginia who was diagnosed with a cancerous brain tumor and died on Oct. 26. The bill by Reps. Gregg Harper, R-Miss., and Peter Welch, D-Vt., redirects money from the fund that finances the national political conventions.
Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said the bill “gives pediatric research a shot in the arm.”
Senior Democrats opposed the bill. Rep Frank Pallone, D-N.J., called it “a disingenuous and empty attempt by the Republicans to divert attention from the fact they have voted to cut research time and time again.”
Griffin, Womack, Crawford and Cotton voted for the bill.
Senate wades into nominations
The Senate took up a series of confirmations for federal judgeships and other top government jobs, after Democrats changed the rules to allow them easier passage. Even though Republicans were prevented from filibustering President Barack Obama’s choices for the posts, the minority party still made use of Senate procedure to force the maximum time possible for debate on the nominees.
For instance, Georgetown University law professor Nina Pillard was confirmed to become a judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit at about 1:15 a.m. on Thursday.
Democrats said Pillard was more than qualified to become a judge. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell called her “a liberal ideologue” who would serve as an Obama rubber-stamp on the court.
PIllard was confirmed 51-44, with three Democrats including Sen. Mark Pryor of Arkansas joining Republicans including Sen. John Boozman in voting against her.