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Senate appropriators hash out deal on 2013 spending

Mar. 13, 2013 - 11:52AM   |  
By MARY ORNDORFF TROYAN   |   Comments
Sens. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., and Richard Shelby, R-Ala., said they wrote a $1 trillion plan to finance government agencies through Sept. 30 that can win bipartisan support in the House and Senate.
Sens. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., and Richard Shelby, R-Ala., said they wrote a $1 trillion plan to finance government agencies through Sept. 30 that can win bipartisan support in the House and Senate. (Getty Images)

Sen. Richard Shelby’s debut as the top GOP negotiator on federal spending was marked by a rare show of bipartisanship Tuesday as he and his Democratic counterpart agreed on a $1 trillion plan to finance government agencies through Sept. 30.

The deal, scheduled to be debated this week on the Senate floor, would end the threat of a government shutdown for the next six months by finishing the work left by the previous Congress.

Shelby, R-Ala., and Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., said they wrote the spending plan to win bipartisan support in the House and Senate. The plan includes many spending decisions already approved by the House and would protect favored programs such as transportation, cybersecurity and scientific research from deeper cuts.

This is the first bill the Senate Appropriations Committee has produced with Mikulski as chairwoman and Shelby as the top-ranking Republican.

If signed by President Obama, the bill will close the book on fiscal 2013, a task Congress should have completed last year. It would allow lawmakers to move on to fiscal 2014 spending issues and 10-year budget negotiations, which are proving controversial.

The government is operating on a stopgap spending bill that expires March 27. Without a deal covering the rest of the fiscal year, or another stopgap bill, the government will shut down.

“Many Americans have lost faith that Republicans and Democrats can work together on anything,” Shelby said. “This bill demonstrates that it’s possible.”

Shelby’s former tenure as top Republican on the Senate banking committee included a blistering partisan dispute over new Wall Street regulations. Compared with that experience, his role on the Appropriations Committee is off to a collegial start.

He and Mikulski and their staffs hammered out details of the spending plan over the past several days behind closed doors. It was released publicly late Monday night, and senators prepared to offer amendments Tuesday.

Mikulski said work on fiscal 2013 spending bills was postponed last fall during the contentious election season.

“Here we are — we’re the cooler heads, and we’re ready to prevail,” she said.

Mikulski said the legislation would hold most federal agencies at fiscal 2012 funding levels and would provide spending plans for defense, military construction, veterans affairs, agriculture, homeland security, commerce, justice and science programs.

“We had to look at not what we would like to do and not even what we should do, but what we must do to keep the government operating in order to achieve the national goals that America wants,” she said.

Shelby said he wanted to maintain funding for programs involving medical research, information technology and cybersecurity.

The proposal complies with spending caps set by the 2011 deal to raise the nation’s debt ceiling and would give the Defense Department flexibility in implementing its share of $85 billion in fiscal 2013 sequestration spending cuts.

Despite the teamwork, Shelby and Mikulski’s deal ran into controversy Tuesday afternoon.

Republican Sens. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma and John McCain of Arizona objected that they hadn’t had enough time to review the 587-page, $1.043 trillion plan. They said some provisions — such as $120 million in public health initiatives for Guam — contradict defense policy agreed to in an earlier law.

“What we have found so far is so egregious,” McCain said.

He complained about $15 million for an incentive program to pay defense contractors an additional 5 percent if work is done by a company owned by a native Hawaiian.

The objections from McCain and Coburn stranded Shelby and Mikulski on the Senate floor Tuesday, unable to start debate on their bill.

Shelby urged his fellow Republicans to drop their objections.

“We’ve got this deadline,” he said. “I don’t think either party is interested ... in going to the brink again.”

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Mary Orndorff Troyan reports for the Gannett Washington Bureau.

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