The U.S. House of Representatives has approved a six-month stopgap government funding bill on a 329 to 91 vote, putting aside the partisan warfare of the past 18 months in bipartisan resolve to avoid a budget showdown ahead of the November election.
The Senate is expected to pass the same measure late next week, providing funding for agencies for the first six months of the fiscal year and avoiding any threat of a government shutdown when the year ends Sept. 30.
The drama with Thursday’s vote came less from the outcome of the vote than from the appearance of Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan, who chairs the House Budget Committee and came to the Capitol to cast a vote in favor of the measure.
His vote was intended to send a message to members of the raucous GOP freshman caucus that they should also sign off on a measure that will set a $1.047 trillion funding level for the first half of the year, the same figure enshrined in the deal to raise the nation’s debt ceiling last summer.
Many rank-and-file Republicans agreed to go along with the bill as a way to spare Congress a messy budget fight as the election looms, even though they would have preferred to cut spending more deeply, following Ryan’s own budget, which would set funding for the year at $1.028 trillion.
The conservative Club for Growth had urged Congress to oppose the bill, arguing that it did not cut spending deeply enough.
The measure also includes $6.4 billion for the Disaster Relief Fund, operated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to provide aid after disasters, as well as $88.5 billion in “war-related funding” for ongoing overseas military operations. It will freeze pay for federal employees.
Passage of the continuing budget resolution by the Senate next week will most likely mark the last action of consequence taken by Congress before adjourning next week. Congress will not return to Washington until after the election.
The stopgap measure means spending policies in place for the past year will merely be extended for another six months, with a slight funding boost.
Members of both parties say they would prefer to update policies, based on a reexamination of priorities and program efficiencies. However, it proved impossible for Congress to come to an agreement on the updated full-year appropriations measures, making the short-term extension necessary.
Passage of the continuing resolution means funds will be available to keep the government running through March, after President Obama or Mitt Romney are sworn in as president in January.
But it does nothing to avert deep automatic spending cuts and dramatic tax increases now scheduled to go into effect Jan. 1, which the Congressional Budget Office has said could send the country back into recession.
On a party-line 223 to 196 vote, the House also passed a measure Thursday that would require Obama to produce a plan to avert military cuts, a symbolic gesture intended to show Republican resolve to avert Defense Department reductions.
The Senate has no plans to take up that measure, and Congress will take up real negotiations over how to avoid the so-called fiscal cliff after the election.