Senate Minority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., is surrounded by members of the press as he leaves his office Dec. 16 in Washington. Senate Democrats and Republicans reached to a deal to extend the payroll tax cut holiday for two months. (Alex Wong / Getty Images)
Congress has given final approval to a fiscal 2012 budget deal aimed at averting a partial government shutdown. The Senate approved the measure 67-32 Saturday morning; the catch-all spending bill, which had won House approval Friday, now goes to President Obama for his signature.
The legislation, worth about $915 billion and covering the remainder of fiscal 2012, would set spending levels for the Defense Department and other federal agencies still operating under the continuing resolution. Fiscal 2012 began Oct. 1.
Under the main spending bill, DoD's base budget would come in at $518.1 billion, about $5 billion more than last year but almost $21 billion below the administration's request, according to a House Appropriations Committee summary. The State Department and foreign operations would receive $42.1 billion, almost $9 billion below the White House's request and approximately $6 billion less than last year. Many other agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency, the Treasury Department and the Department of Homeland Security, would also take modest cuts under the legislation; the Labor Department, Securities and Exchange Commission and the federal courts are among federal agencies and operations that would receive increases over last year's funding levels.
The bill would also give the U.S. Postal Service another reprieve on a legally required $5.5 billion payment into a retiree health care fund. The payment, which USPS officials say they lack the money to cover, was originally due Sept. 30. Lawmakers however, pushed back that deadline until Friday under the existing continuing resolution. The House bill would delay it again until Aug. 1, USPS spokesman Dave Partenheimer said in an email.
Although House and Senate negotiators had reached the basics of an agreement days ago, the spending bill had become a bargaining chip in a separate fight over the terms of a payroll tax cut extension. By an 89-10 vote, the Senate on Saturday approved a two-month extension of the tax cut. That measure now goes to the House.
Assuming that Obama signs the spending bill as expected, it would mark the first time since the end of September 2010 that all federal agencies have had firm annual budgets. Up to now, most have been operating from one continuing resolution to another. As the expiration date on the latest CR drew near, agencies http://www.federaltimes.com/article/20111214/BENEFITS01/112140308/1046/BENEFITS01">had formally notified employees earlier this week of a possible shutdown starting this weekend. Despite the progress toward a final deal, the White House Office of Management and Budget posted http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/omb/memoranda/2012/m-12-03.pdf">17 pages of shutdown guidance for agencies on its website Friday morning.
Responsible management "requires that we be prepared if there is a lapse in appropriations," OMB Director Jack Lew wrote in the memo.
Agency chiefs had already been making a similar point. In a Dec. 14 memo to employees, Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki said "there is no guarantee" Congress will pass a spending bill, and pledged to keep employees informed about the possible shutdown.
"Given the realities of the calendar, however, prudent management requires that we plan for an orderly shutdown," Shinseki wrote. "Both the President and I know that the uncertainty of the current situation puts federal employees in a difficult position, and we are very much aware that a shutdown would impose hardships on many employees, as well as the groups and individuals our agency serves."
A half-dozen major agencies and several smaller ones — including NASA, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, and the Agriculture, Commerce, Justice, Transportation, and Housing and Urban Development departments — would generally not be affected by a shutdown because Congress last month approved 2012 appropriations for them. The remainder, however, are covered by the continuing resolution that expires Friday.
Staff writer Stephen Losey contributed to this report