Washington Digest — House passes spending bill

WASHINGTON — The House voted last week for a $982 billion spending bill to keep the government running through September while giving the Pentagon and veterans agencies flexibility to deal with across-the-board cuts that went into effect March 1.

Lawmakers voted 267-151 for the bill, which keeps in place the lower spending levels created by the budget sequester. The so-called “continuing resolution” would fund agencies from March 27, when temporary funding expires.

The House-approved bill also includes a $2.5 billion increase for the Department of Veterans Affairs and a provision that would keep Saturday mail delivery for the U.S. Postal Service.

Democrats charged the bill does not give non-defense agencies the same flexibility to shift money around among accounts to lessen the blow from the sequester, which put in place $85 billion in cuts divided between the Pentagon and non-defense programs. Republicans said they prioritized national security.

The Democrat-controlled Senate was expected to pass a similar bill after giving a number of other federal agencies similar leeway to adapt to the sequester cuts.

Reps. Steve Womack, R-Rogers, Tim Griffin, R-Little Rock, Rick Crawford, R-Jonesboro and Tom Cotton, R-Dardenelle, voted for the bill.

CIA nominee confirmed

The Senate voted 63-34 to confirm John Brennan to be head of the Central Intelligence Agency, a vote that was delayed by a near-13 hour filibuster by Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky.

Paul held the Senate floor for 12 hours and 52 minutes to protest Brennan, who held top intelligence posts under President Barack Obama and President George W. Bush. Paul spoke mostly against the dangers of the Obama administration’s potential use of drones to kill Americans on U.S. soil.

In response, White House spokesman Jay Carney said “the president has not and would not use drone strikes against American citizens on American soil.”

Brennan was considered for the CIA post four years ago but withdrew following questions about his role in the Bush administration’s use of interrogation techniques that were criticized as torture. He denied playing a central role in the program.

Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., voted to confirm Brennan. Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., voted against Brennan.