House Passes Spending Bill

On Tuesday afternoon, the House passed a two-week temporary spending bill to avert a government shutdown. The measure would cut $4 billion from current spending — which House Republicans regard as a down payment on the $60 billion they want to cut. Democrats are expected to go along, saying the particular cuts were targets anyway.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

I'm Melissa Block.

And we begin this hour with a ticking clock. Lawmakers on Capitol Hill are trying to work out a deal to avoid a government shutdown. Today, the House of Representatives, controlled now by Republicans, passed a temporary spending bill to fund federal agencies through the middle of this month. The Senate is expected to go along for now.

As NPR's Audie Cornish reports, the bill simply extends for another two weeks the heated debate over what and how much to cut.

AUDIE CORNISH: Stop me if you've heard this story before: The House has passed a temporary measure to prevent federal agencies from running out of money.

Representative DENNY REHBERG (Republican, Montana): Here we go again, debating another continuing resolution. I'm starting to feel like Bill Murray in "Groundhog Day."

CORNISH: That's Montana Republican Denny Rehberg. Rehberg and the Republican-led House just approved another continuing resolution - this one for just two weeks. That's the name for the temporary budget bills lawmakers pass so federal agencies can keep functioning even when regular spending bills haven't been approved.

The last measure the House passed was supposed to cover the rest of the fiscal year. It had more than $60 billion in cuts and legislated on everything from environmental regulations to defense contracts. And it was considered DOA by Democrats. Here's James Moran of Virginia.

Representative JAMES MORAN (Democrat, Virginia): This bill has more poison pills in it than Rasputin's medicine cabinet.

CORNISH: The two-week measure seeks $4 billion in cuts, mostly in earmarks plus education programs the president has already targeted. But that didn't make it any more appetizing to Democrats like Keith Ellison of Minnesota.

Representative KEITH ELLISON (Democrat, Minnesota): I'm absolutely against starting down a series of short-term cuts, of short-term CRs that results in a bleed of the American middle class, a slow bleed.

CORNISH: But that is just where the debate is stalled. Democrats and the White House are floating all kinds of ideas to buy more time to negotiate a final bill covering the rest of the year, like what about a 30-day extension freezing government spending and, ooh, how about a four-week bill with $8 billion in cuts. And then, there is...

Representative JOHN BOEHNER (Republican, Ohio; Speaker of the House): If ands and buts were candy and nuts, every day would be Christmas.

CORNISH: House Speaker John Boehner isn't interested.

Rep. BOEHNER: If there had been a conversation about this 10 days ago or two days ago, you know, we might have had something to talk about. But the fact is, is that we were forced to move on our own. I think we're taking a responsible path forward to keep the government open and to meet our commitment to cut spending.

CORNISH: Boehner has 87 freshmen members who were already chafing at the prospect of explaining cuts far short of the hundred billion dollars they promised in their campaigns.

And now, the two-week bill heads to the Senate. Majority leader Harry Reid says he expects it to pass within 48 hours. That still leaves what to do for the rest of the year, and there's still next year's budget and what to do about the long-term deficit and debt.

Audie Cornish, NPR News, the Capitol.

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