House and Senate negotiators have agreed on the details of a spending package that will keep the federal government running until Dec. 16--and fund five major federal departments through all of fiscal 2012, staffers announced Monday night.
That agreement--made in a "conference committee" with both House and Senate members--is the kind of thing that used to be business as usual on Capitol Hill. These conference committees traditionally have settled differences easily when the two chambers have passed different versions of the same bill, but in a polarized era, agreement is noteworthy.
This conference committee agreed to keep the entire government open for another month, funding federal operations at the level set in the debt-ceiling agreement in early August. That agreement calls for government to be funded at a level that would allow $1.043 trillion in "discretionary" spending, a decrease of $7 billion versus the previous year.
Discretionary spending includes spending on many agency budgets, but doesn't count benefit programs like Medicare and Social Security. The committee also agreed on what, in Congress-speak, is called a "mini-bus." That's a single funding package that allots a full year's worth money for several federal agencies at once.
In this case, the committee agreed on funding for the departments of agriculture, commerce, housing and urban development, justice and transportation.
It also agreed to provide funding for NASA and the National Science Foundation.
Among the details of the agreement:
* The Women, Infants and Children (WIC) nutrition program, a Democratic priority, got $6.6 billion in funding. That was $570 million more than the GOP-controlled House had allotted, and $36 million more than the Democrat-held Senate had approved.
* Republicans won passage of several measures intended to protect gun owners. These, according to a release from House Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers (R-Ky.), would permanently prohibit the Justice Department "from consolidating its firearms sales records, electronically retrieving the records of former firearms dealers, and maintaining information on persons who have passed firearms background checks."
*The agreement allots $1.4 billion to Amtrak, but requires a series of changes to the long-struggling railroad. These include "requiring overtime limits on Amtrak employees to reduce unnecessary costs, and [reinstating] a provision that prohibits federal funding for routes where Amtrak offers a discount of 50 percent or more off normal, peak fares."
The committee's report must now face a vote in both the Senate and the House. Those votes are expected later this week, before the government runs out of money on Friday. After that, the House and Senate must work through a series of other "mini-buses," allotting a full year's worth of funding to the rest of the federal government, one chunk at a time.