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House avoids spending debate

Republicans lose ground in curbing spending as lawmakers turn their attention on getting reelected

Speaker John Boehner leaes the House chamber after Wednesday’s vote. Associated Press/Photo by J. Scott Applewhite

House avoids spending debate

WASHINGTON—Proving it is hard to cut federal programs in an election year, the Republican-led House on Wednesday overwhelmingly passed a trillion-dollar federal spending bill for fiscal year 2014.

The measure, which passed 359 to 67, may mark an early end this year to the spending debates that have rocked Congress each of the last two years and led to a partial government shutdown last fall. But in avoiding further budget uproars, presumably so lawmakers could focus on getting reelected, Republicans also erased some of the recent gains they’d made in rolling back federal spending.

The House passed the $1.012 trillion spending bill to fund the federal government less than three days after congressional negotiators released the bill’s 1,582 pages, making it doubtful that many lawmakers read the measure before voting on it.

Conservative groups oppose the legislation because it adds $45 billion to the nation’s $17 trillion national debt, breaking the spending caps conservatives fought for in 2011.

“Breaking the sequestration spending caps disregards the only real spending reform that Republicans had achieved since retaking the House, and continues to demonstrate Congress’ compulsive inability to stop spending money they don’t have,” said Matt Kibbe, president of FreedomWorks.

Despite the pressure from groups such as FreedomWorks and The Heritage Foundation, less than 40 House lawmakers voted against the measure. Many likely hoped to avoid an election year repeat of the media backlash conservatives endured during last fall’s partial government shutdown. The House-approved measure now goes before the Democratic-led Senate where it is expected to pass and then signed by President Barack Obama.

House Republican Conference Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., said the bill would “keep the government open for the next fiscal year to give hardworking Americans the certainty they need to create jobs and grow our economy.” Republicans like Rodgers who voted for the bill touted how it “cut total discretionary spending for the fourth year in a row, which hasn’t happened since the Korean War.”

The House Appropriations Committee said the spending for all defense and domestic programs funded annually has dropped from a total of $1.091 trillion in October 2009 to today’s $1.012 trillion. But this fiscal year was slated to fall to $967 billion, thanks to the across-the-board spending cuts dubbed “the sequester.” That drop was too low for even most Republicans in an election year.

“We still have a $600 billion deficit in the current fiscal year, and that is simply not good enough,” said Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan., one of the 64 Republicans who voted against Wednesday’s measure (three Democrats also voted against the measure).

While few lawmakers likely read the bill, a team from The Heritage Foundation did, easily digging up numerous examples of wasteful programs that taxpayers will continue to fund. The bill pays for Diesel Emissions Reduction Act (DERA) grants, which in the past have funded such projects as $750,000 for new tractors in Utah and $1 million for electrified parking spaces in Delaware. The Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grants will now be able to dole out $600 million—up $125 million from last year.

The spending bill prevents the government from getting the U.S. Postal Service under better financial management by blocking any moves to stop Saturday delivery or close rural post offices. It also offers $1.39 billion in subsidies to Amtrak, gives green energy initiatives $1.5 billion, and provides $146 million each to the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities. Heritage notes that part of those dollars will go to fund a dance choreography exploring “life in a 1961 Oasis trailer” that will be performed in parking lots.

Worse still, the bill continues to fund Obamacare. Those federal subsidies for healthcare plans likely will lead to the taxpayer funding of abortions. More than 18,000 additional abortion procedures could be paid for each year thanks to Obamacare, according to the Charlotte Lozier Institute, the research arm of the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List.

Not all agencies are celebrating the omnibus bill. The Internal Revenue Service will get less money this year as lawmakers try to restrict the IRS’s ability to target conservative groups. And that’s not all: The bill stops additional taxpayer dollars from paying for the portraits of Cabinet secretaries and members of Congress. So lawmakers will have to look elsewhere if they want a painting of themselves in time for November’s midterm elections.

Edward Lee Pitts

Lee is the executive director of the World Journalism Institute and former Washington, D.C. bureau chief for WORLD Magazine. He is a graduate of Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism and teaches journalism at Dordt University in Sioux Center, Iowa.

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