Let’s recap what turned out to be a busy Wednesday in Congress, particularly in the House. We’ll start with the Senate:
• The Senate actually planned as many as 5 cloture votes yesterday, but only got around to 2. Senators failed to invoke cloture on a collective bargaining bill for firefighters and police (which would have set minimum standards for contracts), and a $250 one-time benefit for Social Security recipients, because their cost-of-living adjustment remained flat for the second straight year. The firefighter bill got 55 votes and the COLA bill 53. No Republicans supported either.
• The reason the Senate didn’t proceed on the rest of their schedule is because they wanted to take the House’s version of the DREAM Act, which was third in the queue, and the House didn’t get around to taking action on that until late at night. In addition, talks continued on the defense authorization bill, as Susan Collins gave a counter-offer to Harry Reid on the rules for debate that was similar enough to Reid’s initial offer to see a path forward. Reid didn’t want to force the issue and potentially blow an impending deal. So that was postponed, along with another bill to compensate 9-11 volunteers sickened at Ground Zero.
• The Senate did have time to pass by voice-vote that one-year “doc fix” which I mentioned Tuesday. The fact that it was paid for through clawbacks to exchange subsidies for people who “didn’t deserve them” by virtue of getting a new job mid-year didn’t faze anyone in the Senate (the authors of the bill call it “modifying the policy regarding overpayments of the health care affordability tax credit”). This will now move to the House. I’m sure Democrats are happy to defuse this bomb for a year and get the issue behind them, but it shows just how insecure those exchange subsidies are, years before they get implemented.
• The House, after failing to get 2/3 for a suspension calendar vote on the Social Security one-time benefit, moved on a huge bill to fund the government until September 2011, or for the rest of the fiscal year. They passed it by one vote, 207-206, with no Republican support.
Lest you think it was a decent bill, it wasn’t. Republicans just wanted an option to hack away at the FY2011 budget when they get into power. This bill is actually bad enough. Jamie Dupree has the details from a letter by David Obey, the outgoing Appropriations Committee Chair:
This funding Act freezes FY 2011 discretionary appropriations at the FY 2010 level; providing $45.9 billion less than the President requested for the year.
Within that ceiling, the Act adjusts funding between programs and accounts to deal with current demands and workloads and avoid furloughs.
“At a time when we are apparently extending huge tax cuts for millionaires and we’re giving families worth ten million dollars or more a bye on paying taxes on their good fortunes, this Committee has done its dead level best within the constraints under which we are operating to make some modest adjustments to salvage some investments which over the long haul just might create more jobs than a tax break for millionaires and adjustments that just might ease the financial desperation facing so many families today who cannot afford to send their kids to college, to find decent child care, or to provide adequate medical attention for their needs,” said Chairman Dave Obey (D-WI).
Let’s add in some more details. The bill cuts high-speed rail funding by $1.5 billion, per the President’s request. Commerce, Justice and Science get $8 billion less than last year. Financial Services gets a billion less, although they do boost funding for more regulators to enforce Dodd-Frank. Transportation and HUD get $3 billion less than last year. The discretionary spending freeze is carried through in this bill, and so is the federal employee pay freeze announced last week. Defense base closure funding is cut by $5 billion. The nuclear pork new START deal is pre-figured in this bill by $624 more in funding for nuclear weapons programs. Race to the Top of course gets $550 million. The Defense Department gets a $4.9 billion dollar bump over last year. And in a good move, the bill shifts $5.7 billion to cover Pell grants, which faced a major shortfall.
Oh, and the bill ends all terror trials for Guantanamo detainees for the rest of the fiscal year, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, because it bars them from being transferred to the US (more to the point it bars money from being spent on transfer). As Adam Serwer notes, this is a real assertion of authority by the Congress over executive actions.
Now, will any forecaster incorporate the $46 billion cutback to the federal budget into their forecast for 2011? And remember, that’s before the Republicans take the government hostage over the debt limit and try to extract more cuts.
• In addition to the funding in that omnibus bill, the House stuck the food safety bill in it. You remember that, because of a drafting error, the Senate illegally originated a tax bill in their chamber, instead of using a shell bill from the House. This threatened the food safety bill, which passed both houses. But now, the House added the Senate’s version of the bill into this must-pass legislation.
• Finally, the House passed the DREAM Act. The roll call is here. Eight Republicans supported it; 6 are leaving the House at the end of the year, and the other two are Cuban immigrants. There was some question whether the House would be able to get this passed. It’s the first pro-immigration bill passed by either chamber of Congress in a decade, and that’s an achievement in and of itself. But nobody really expected it to pass the Senate. That vote will happen today.