The Senate on Wednesday voted 73-26 to approve a $984 billion continuing resolution (H.R. 933) that will keep the government funded through the end of the fiscal year on September 30. The House quickly passed the measure on Thursday, and is now headed to the President’s desk for signature.
The spending bill includes the same funding levels as legislation already approved by the House, and would keep the $85 billion in automatic spending cuts known as sequestration.
The Senate bill, negotiated by Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) and ranking member Richard Shelby (R-AL), added appropriations for Agriculture, Homeland Security and the Commerce, Justice and Science funds, in addition to the House-passed Defense, Military Construction and Veterans Affairs programs, but retained the funding levels of the House bill.
Several amendments were added to the Senate bill, including measures to prevent cuts to tuition assistance to members of the military and to ensure food inspectors are not furloughed.
A list of the amendments that were passed are as follows:
- An amendment from Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) removed a $140 million earmark to Guam was approved after he pointed out that the National Defense Authorization Act passed last year removed that funding.
- Senator James Inhofe’s (R-OK) amendment that would delay enforcement of an Environmental Protection Agency rule against farms on oil spill regulations from the end of May to the end of September by prohibiting use of funding for the Spill Prevention, Control, and Countermeasure rule.
- An amendment from Inhofe and Sen. Kay Hagan (D-NC) would ensure funding for tuition assistance of Armed Service members, which was threatened under sequestration.
- Sen. Tom Coburn’s (R-OK) amendment 65 would direct the National Science Foundation to fund research that is in the interest of national security.
- Coburn amendment 70 would require all Department of Homeland Security-related reports issued to the Senate Appropriations Committee also be given to the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.
- Mikulski and Shelby’s amendment to make technical-corrections to the language of the bill.
- An amendment from Sen. Patrick Leahy’s (D-VT) related to reducing the use of cluster munitions.
- Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) and Mark Pryor’s (D-AR) amendment would close a funding gap for the Food Safety and Inspection Service and ensure that food inspectors are not furloughed due to the sequestration cuts that went into effect March 1.
- Mikulski and Shelby’s final substitute amendment, making all of the Senate additions to the House bill.
For the first time in four years, the Senate is expected to adopt a budget blueprint. Senators will consider dozens of amendments during hours of nonstop voting, or a “vote-a-rama” before they adopt the budget. Most amendments will be used as test votes on other policy proposals that could come up later in the year.
Over 400 amendments were added to the Senate bill, but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said he would seek to limit debate to between 25 and 35 of them. Some of the amendments being considered are as follows:
- Sens. Michael Enzi (R-WY), Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Richard Durbin (D-IL) and others will ask for a vote to express support for their legislation allowing states to collect taxes on online purchases across state lines. The proposal has won the backing of many retailers, but it faces opposition from states that do not collect sales taxes, such as New Hampshire.
- An amendment from Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) which would withhold pay from officials at the Office of Management and Budget if the president does not present a budget by the February due date
- Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) has proposed the Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act, which establishes a prohibition on abortions for sex-selection. Other controversial issues that are expected to be voted on include gun control and immigration matters.
- Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan and other Senate Democrats have pushed for a vote on House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan’s spending blueprint, which the House approved Thursday.
- There is a possibility Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) will offer his budget that balances the budget in five years, allows Social Security to be transferred to private accounts, and moves it to a flat tax. However, senators have rarely agreed, and in 2011 only seven lawmakers voted for it.
- Sens. Vitter and Claire McCaskill’s (D-MO) proposal would end automatic pay raises for members of Congress.
- There will be several test votes on the tax code including a proposal from Sens. John Thune (R-SD) and Roy Blunt (R-MO) that would outline a series of proposals in opposition to the estate tax and any potential tax on carbon. The two Republican leaders also discussed an effort to reject higher taxes on charitable donations.
- Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) wants to eliminate the budget’s order to raise $975 billion in revenues. Grassley advised that he does not believe there is sufficient revenue available to meet the demands of the budget instructions provided to the Senate’s tax writers. Republicans will instead push for a revenue-neutral tax code overhaul.
- It is possible there may be votes to repeal Obamacare, the 2010 health care law, although Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) have proposed a more realistic amendment to remove an unpopular 2.3 percent medical device tax.
- Sen. Bernard Sanders (I-VT) will propose an amendment changing the way increases in Social Security benefits are calculated, and is in opposition to a GOP plan to tweak the Consumer Price Index, which determines benefit payout levels.
The Senate will work through the amendments to the budget today, with a final vote set for later tonight or Saturday.
The Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works marked up the 2013 Water Resources and Development Act (WRDA) on Wednesday, then voted 18-0 to pass the amended water infrastructure authorization bill (S. 601). The measure includes an overhaul of the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund that would ensure that all user fees collected, about $1.8 billion annually, will be spent solely on ports projects. Chairwoman Barbara Boxer announced that Majority Leader Harry Reid has assured her that he will bring the bill to the floor, although no date has been set.
After returning from the Easter/Passover recess, the Senate will look to take up gun control legislation. The bill will not include an assault weapons ban, and an expansion of background checks may not make it into the final bill either.
As gun-control legislation moves to the Senate floor, it clears the way for the Senate Judiciary Committee to take up the high-profile topic of immigration. Both parties have expressed interest in an immigration reform bill, and began discussing the topic on Monday, with a hearing on how reform should address the needs of women and families.
Once the Senate votes on a budget resolution, they will adjourn for the Easter/Passover recess. The House adjourned yesterday. The next Weekly Legislative Update will cover April 8-12 when Congress returns from their break.