World & Nation

Spending bill is on track but jobless benefits stall in Congress

WASHINGTON — A $1-trillion spending bill was headed for swift approval in the House by Wednesday, but legislation to extend unemployment insurance stalled in the Senate amid partisan bickering, dashing hopes for a quick deal to resume jobless benefits.

Though negotiations continue, it appears increasingly unlikely that a compromise will be reached quickly to help the more than 1.4 million Americans who have been cut off from their unemployment benefits. An additional 72,000 Americans lose their insurance every week.

On Tuesday, Senate Republicans rejected two proposals to extend unemployment insurance. A core group of Republican senators has tried to broker a compromise, but the bill became a battleground over Senate procedures, and Republicans filibustered to protest what they viewed as unfair rules imposed by Democrats to restrict their ability to offer amendments to the measure.

“What is wrong with having votes” on amendments? asked Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader. “If you don’t want to fight fires, don’t become a firefighter, and if you don’t want to cast tough votes, don’t come to the Senate.”


The budget package, by contrast, is emerging as a rare example of cooperation in the otherwise stalemated Congress, with passage likely in both chambers by the end of the week.

The House on Tuesday approved a stopgap measure that would fund the government until midnight Saturday, giving lawmakers a few extra days beyond Wednesday’s deadline to jump through the procedural hoops needed before a final vote can be taken.

Winners and losers in the spending bill reflect a long list of partisan priorities.

More money would go to the Head Start program for preschoolers, Meals on Wheels for seniors, and federal workers, who would get their first cost-of-living adjustment in four years. All were Democratic priorities and got a bump up from the austerity budgets penned by Republicans.


On the other hand, funds for food safety inspectors, the Internal Revenue Service and a new headquarters for the United Nations — all of which Republicans opposed — would see reductions.

Military troops would see a 1% boost in pay. A ban on incandescent light bulbs championed by Democrats during President George W. Bush’s administration — but long ridiculed by Republicans — would be lifted.

Obamacare funding would remain flat, as would President Obama’s office budget. But Vice President Joe Biden’s office account would be trimmed.

The National Institutes of Health, which became a high-profile example of the government shutdown when scientists delayed potentially lifesaving medical research, had its funding cut from last year, but not as much as it would have been under the previously scheduled reductions. The additional $1 billion in funds would allow nearly 385 new research studies and trials to begin, Democrats said.

The Environmental Protection Agency, which is often a target of Republicans who perceive its regulatory actions as government overreach, also had its budget cut. But an additional $500 million was provided to the Chemical Safety Board, which is investigating this month’s chemical spill in Charleston, W.Va., according to the office of Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV, a Democrat who represents the state.

The embattled Transportation Security Administration, which provides airport screeners, saw its funding reduced by $225.8 million.

In a nod to the congressional concern over the growing number of military sexual assaults, $25 million in new funding was provided for a victim counseling program.

Large pieces of legislation provide ample opportunity for lawmakers to slip in policy priorities, and the spending bill had plenty of riders, even though others were swatted back.


For example, a continued ban on federal funding for abortion services was upheld, but a gag order that would prevent federally funded nongovernmental organizations from providing family planning counseling was not.

The bipartisan budget accord was struck last month by Rep. Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.).

Few lawmakers appeared fully satisfied with the final product. But the 1,000-plus-page bill provides an opportunity for Congress to move beyond the shutdown threat that neither party wants to repeat.

“We’re in a situation where the government is in fact going to run out of money,” House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) said Tuesday. “But we want to get this government funding in place as soon as possible. And I think, under the circumstances, what we’re doing is appropriate.”

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