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The Journal Gazette

Thursday, March 21, 2013 11:10 am

Government funding bill sails through House

By ANDREW TAYLORAssociated Press

The House Thursday passed a huge spending bill to keep the government open through the end of September, sidestepping any threat of a government shutdown.

The bipartisan 318-109 vote sends the measure President Barack Obama to be signed into law.

The measure would fund the day-to-day operating budgets of every Cabinet agency through Sept. 30, provide another $87 billion to fund overseas military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq and maintain a pay freeze for federal workers.

The measure leaves in place automatic spending cuts of 5 percent to domestic programs and 8 percent to the Pentagon that will mean job furloughs for hundreds of thousands of federal workers but takes steps to ease the impact of those cuts to food inspection and college assistance for active duty military.

Passage of the measure represents a relatively peaceful interlude in an ongoing, tumultuous series of battles between Democrats and Republicans over spending, taxes and deficits.

At issue is funding the day-to-day operations of federal agencies, which have thus far borne the brunt of the spending cuts agreed to in a hard-fought 2011 budget pact setting spending "caps" and increasing the government's borrowing limit. The failure of Washington to follow up with another deficit bargain set the automatic spending cuts in motion. They are just beginning to bite and Republicans insist they remain in place until Democrats agree to cuts to rapidly-growing benefit programs, which are funded automatically as the "mandatory" portion of the budget.

The measure gives the Pentagon much-sought relief from a cash crunch in accounts for training and readiness and gives veteran health programs their scheduled increases. It contains big increases to modernize the Pentagon's nuclear arsenal and seeks to make sure a food program for pregnant women and their babies maintains full funding.

Democrats were denied additional money to implement Obama's signature first-term accomplishments on overhauling the U.S. health care system and tightening regulation of Wall St.

The original House measure would have kept most domestic programs on autopilot at 2012 levels - and then subject to the automatic cuts - while awarding the departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs their detailed, line-by-line budgets. Senate Democrats succeeded in giving Cabinet departments like Justice, Agriculture, Commerce and Homeland Security their detailed budgets, offering them flexibility to cope with the automatic cuts.