Spending bill’s passage sets stage for new US showdown

Senate voted 72-26 to clear measure for Obama’s signature

By Kathleen Hunter (Bloomberg)

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Published: Sat 18 Jan 2014, 10:35 PM

Last updated: Fri 3 Apr 2015, 5:54 PM

Bipartisan passage of a $1.1 trillion bill to finance the US government through September 30 clears the way for lawmakers to focus on the next potential fiscal showdown: Raising the federal debt ceiling.

Congress as soon as next month will be confronted with the need to increase borrowing authority, risking a repeat of the partisan discord that last year and in 2011 took the US to the brink of default.

While it remains to be seen whether the cross-party cooperation will carry over to the debt limit debate, senators hailed Thursday’s final passage of the $1.1 trillion spending bill as a breakthrough.

“In today’s era of shutdown, slowdown, slam-down politics, where negotiating occurs on cable TV rather than in committee rooms, we worked together,” Senate Appropriations Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski, a Maryland Democrat, said before the vote. “We looked at how we could put together a bill that both sides of the aisle in both houses could agree upon.”

The Democratic-led Senate voted 72-26 to clear the spending measure for President Barack Obama’s signature a day after the Republican-led House passed it, 359-67.

Obama’s budget director, Sylvia Mathews Burwell, called passage of the legislation “a positive step forward for the nation and our economy.” In a statement last night, she cited funding for education, infrastructure and innovation.

The bipartisan measure marked a contrast from the Tea Party- fueled discord that caused a 16-day partial government shutdown in October.

The latest effort to fund government operations went smoothly in part because both parties conceded points that led to acrimony in past debates.

Republicans dropped a demand to cut off funding for Obama’s 2010 health care law, a major cause of the October shutdown, after that proved disastrous for the party in public-opinion polls. Democrats accepted far less spending than they had proposed.

Seventeen Senate Republicans joined with the chamber’s 55 Democrats to support the measure. Among the 26 Republican “no” votes were potential 2016 presidential aspirants Rand Paul of Kentucky and Marco Rubio of Florida.

Attention now turns to raising the US debt ceiling. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew said yesterday that Congress should act as soon as possible to raise the borrowing cap at least by late February. He spoke at a Washington event hosted by the Council on Foreign Relations.

Democrats are sticking to their refusal to consider Republican demands for other fiscal changes in exchange for raising the borrowing limit. Obama told Democratic senators at a White House meeting on January 15 that he won’t retreat from that position, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told reporters on Thursday.

“One thing the president did make very clear yesterday — and he was extremely emphatic, as he was the last go-round on this — he, we will not negotiate on extending the debt limit,” said Reid, a Nevada Democrat.

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