House set to pass spending plan to fund government through March

The House is expected to easily pass a short-term spending plan Thursday to keep government operations funded through March, a move that would signal that the chamber has at least temporarily jettisoned the brinkmanship of last year.

With support from House Republican and Democratic leaders, the legislation is expected to win broad approval and set government spending for the first six months of fiscal 2013 at a rate slightly higher than that of the current fiscal year. The Senate is expected to vote on the plan later next week in what could be the last legislative action before both chambers adjourn for the fall campaign season.

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House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (Wis.), who drafted a budget plan that had almost $20 billion less in spending, is expected to return from campaigning as the Republican vice-presidential nominee to vote in favor of the measure.

Highlights of the legislation include:

● $1.047 trillion in total spending, including an across-the-board spending increase of 0.6 percent over the base rate, higher than the $1.028 trillion limit Ryan set in the House Republican budget passed in the spring.

● $6.4 billion for the Disaster Relief Fund, operated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to provide aid after disasters.

● $88.5 billion in “war-related funding” for ongoing overseas military operations.

● A federal employee pay freeze, which also applies to lawmakers and their staffs.

The relatively smooth ride for this funding resolution — its parameters were agreed to in late July — marks a change in tone from budget battles of last year, when on at least three occasions congressional standoffs had the government within hours of partly shutting down.

Much of that shift in tone comes from the massive class of freshman Republicans, who stormed into the House in January 2011 demanding that their leaders live up to their campaign pledges to dramatically cut federal spending. Each of the confrontations with President Obama and Senate Democrats ended with a compromise no one was particularly pleased with; this time, rather than fight for the lower spending number Ryan drafted, many freshmen are willing to support the higher number because it was part of a 2011 debt deal, blaming Democrats who refuse to negotiate on more reductions.

“If you had people that were producing budgets, if you had people doing appropriations bills, you would not be in this position. Someone has to be the adult around here,” said Rep. Allen B. West (R-Fla.), one of the most outspoken freshmen. “That’s what it comes down to.”

In his weekly news conference, Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) defended the higher spending level as both sides keeping their word as part of the Budget Control Act of 2011, which set spending limits for several years and mandated more than $2 trillion in spending cuts in exchange for allowing the U.S. Treasury’s debt ceiling to increase.

Some lawmakers preferred passing as many of the 12 annual spending bills as possible, because approving this resolution allows for an across-the-board increase in existing policy while many other favored new initiatives won’t be negotiated until early next year.

The legislation allows a few small changes, including: permitting the Defense Department to buy supplies from other countries for use in the war in Afghanistan; providing flexibility for Customs and Border Protection to maintain staffing levels; and adding money for processing veterans’ disability claims, fighting western wildfires, nuclear weapons modernization and weather satellite launches.

 
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