Wed, Dec 14, 2011 - Page 7 News List

US lawmakers reach spending bill agreement

AP, Washington

Weary after a year of partisan bickering, US lawmakers reached a tentative agreement on Monday on a sprawling US$1 trillion-plus spending bill that chips away at military and environmental spending, but denies conservatives many of the policy changes they wanted on social issues, government regulations and health care.

Environmentalists succeeded in stopping industry forces from blocking new clean air regulations and a new clean water regulation opposed by mountaintop removal mining interests. However, anti-Castro lawmakers appeared likely to win concessions that would weaken administration efforts to ease restrictions on Cuban immigrants on travel to the island and sending cash back to family members there.

On spending, the measure implements this summer’s hard-fought budget pact between US President Barack Obama and Republican leaders. That deal essentially freezes agency budgets, on average, at levels for the recently completed budget year that were approved back in April.

Drafted behind closed doors, the proposed bill would pay for the war in Afghanistan, but give the Pentagon just a 1 percent boost in annual spending, while the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) budget would be cut by 3.5 percent.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Harold Rogers said that bargainers had struck an agreement, but would not formally unveil it until yesterday. A House of Representatives vote is expected tomorrow and the Senate is likely to follow in time to meet a midnight Friday deadline before a stopgap funding measure expires.

The generally smooth, businesslike negotiations on the omnibus spending bill contrasts with the ongoing partisan brawl over Obama’s demand that the US Congress extend jobless benefits and a cut in the Social Security payroll tax.

The House of Representatives was slated to vote on a Republican-friendly version of the payroll tax cut yesterday; negotiations with the Democratic-controlled US Senate on a compromise measure have yet to begin.

The spending measure, meanwhile, is likely to go over like a lead balloon among “Tea Party” conservatives, many of whom believe the August budget and debt compromise didn’t cut enough. Last month, 101 House Republicans opposed a smaller bundle of spending bills.

Conservative ire is likely to be magnified once the negotiating outcome regarding dozens of Republican policy “riders” is finalized. House Republicans larded the measures with provisions aimed at rolling back Environmental Protection Agency rules, such as regulations on coal ash, large-scale discharges of hot water and greenhouse gases from electric power plants, and emissions from cement plants and oil refineries.

The most controversial riders, lawmakers said, were dumped overboard because of opposition from Obama and Democrats controlling the Senate. However, Democrats realize that they have to show some flexibility to win Republican votes in the House. That means Democrats are likely to accept, reluctantly, a rider that blocks the city of Washington from funding abortions for poor women.

In addition to the cut in EPA funding, foreign aid spending also would drop and House lawmakers would absorb a 6 percent cut to their office budgets.

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