WASHINGTON: Congress sent President Barack Obama a $1.1 trillion government-wide spending bill Thursday, easing the harshest effects of last year´s automatic budget cuts after tea party critics chastened by October´s partial shutdown mounted only a faint protest.
The Senate voted 72-26 for the measure, which cleared the House a little more than 24 hours earlier on a similarly lopsided vote. Obama´s signature on the bill was expected in time to prevent any interruption in government funding Saturday at midnight.
The huge bill funds every agency of government, pairing increases for NASA and Army Corps of Engineers construction projects with cuts to the Internal Revenue Service and foreign aid.
It pays for implementation of Obama´s health care law; a fight over implementing “Obamacare” sparked tea party Republicans to partially shut the government down for 16 days last October.
Also included is funding for tighter regulations on financial markets, but at levels lower than the president wanted. The compromise-laden legislation reflects the realities of divided power in Washington and a desire by both Democrats and Republicans for an election-year respite after three years of budget wars that had Congress and the White House lurching from crisis to crisis.
Both parties looked upon the measure as a way to ease automatic spending cuts that both the Pentagon and domestic agencies had to begin absorbing last year.
Shortly before the final vote, Sen. Ted Cruz, a Republican and possible presidential contender in 2016, delivered a slashing attack on Senate Democrats, accusing them of ignoring the problems caused by the health care law.
“It is abundantly clear that millions of Americans are being harmed right now by this failed law,” Cruz said. Unlike last fall, when he spoke for 21 straight hours and helped force the government shutdown over defunding “Obamacare,” this time he clocked in at 17 minutes and simply asked the Senate to unanimously approve an amendment to strip out Obamacare funding.
Democrats easily repelled the maneuver. The bill, which cleared the House on a vote of 359-67, increases spending by about $26 billion over fiscal 2013, with most of the increase going to domestic programs. Almost $9 billion in unrequested money for overseas military and diplomatic operations helps ease shortfalls in the Pentagon and foreign aid budgets.