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Senate approaches final OK of $1.1T spending bill

Published on NewsOK Modified: January 16, 2014 at 12:44 pm •  Published: January 16, 2014

WASHINGTON (AP) — Congress edged Thursday toward granting final approval to a $1.1 trillion package financing federal agencies this year, a bipartisan compromise that all but banishes the specter of an election-year government shutdown and underscores lawmakers' fatigue with budget battles.

Democratic leaders were hoping the Senate would vote on the immense spending measure as early as Thursday. The Republican-run House passed the package Wednesday in a lopsided 359-67 vote that illustrated how both parties could claim wins in the measure — and saw deep perils in fighting over it.

"In today's era of shutdown, slowdown, slam down politics, where negotiating occurs on cable TV rather than committee rooms, we worked together, setting aside partisan differences," Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., said of her work on the bill with her House counterpart, Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Ky. "This is what the American people deserve."

"It represents a middle ground on which I believe we can all comfortably stand," said Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama, top Republican on the Appropriations panel. "It's certainly far better than the alternative, which would be another confrontation, another government shutdown."

The 1,582-page legislation is a line-by-line follow-up to the budget compromise the two parties pushed through Congress in December that set overall spending limits for the next two years.

The bill lawmakers were considering this week finances federal agencies through September. With the November congressional elections coming just weeks later, Congress is all but sure to provide more money later to avoid an election-eve budget clash.

The legislation increases agency budgets by $26 billion over last year's total. But it still leaves them $31 billion below where last year's spending would have been if not for sequestration — budget-wide cuts triggered after lawmakers failed to agree to deficit-cutting savings.

Even so, conservative Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., complained that lawmakers were ignoring an opportunity to eliminate wasteful programs and save taxpayers money.

"What we're actually doing is digging the hole deeper," Coburn said.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., complained about a provision that The Washington Post reported was in a classified portion of the spending bill blocking President Barack Obama from transferring control of U.S. drone attacks on terrorists overseas from the CIA to the Pentagon.

"How many of my colleagues knew that this provision was in this mammoth appropriations bill? I'll bet you a handful," said McCain, a leading member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

The measure let Republicans claim they have now restrained agency spending for four straight years. They won cuts to the Internal Revenue Service and Transportation Security Administration and foreign aid, restricted spending to implement President Barack Obama's health care and financial regulation overhauls, and won renewal of provisions limiting federal assistance for abortions.

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