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Spending trade-offs hold budget deal together

January 14, 2014 at 6:10 PM EST
The House of Representatives passed a bill to fund the government short-term while they finish work on a long-term bipartisan plan to fund the government through September. Kwame Holman reports on the details and concessions of the $1.1 trillion budget package and Gwen Ifill gets analysis from Ed O'Keefe of The Washington Post.
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GWEN IFILL: Lawmakers reached a deal Monday on a wide-ranging spending bill, but they remain divided over extending long-term unemployment benefits.

NewsHour congressional correspondent Kwame Holman reports on today’s action.

MAN: In the opinion of the chair, two-thirds being in the affirmative, the rules are suspended, the joint resolution is agreed to.

KWAME HOLMAN: The House used a voice vote to pass a stopgap bill that will fund the government until the weekend. That takes care of a Wednesday deadline, allowing members to finish work on a massive bipartisan measure that will pay the bills through September.

House Speaker John Boehner:

REP. JOHN BOEHNER, R-Ohio: We’re in a situation where the government is in fact going to run out of money. We’re going to have to move a short-term C.R. But we want to get this government funding in place as soon as possible.

KWAME HOLMAN: Next up for the House: passing the main $1.1 trillion package, which runs nearly 1,600 pages. That vote could come tomorrow. Some Tea Party-backed Republicans are expected to oppose it, but Democrats are likely to join more moderate Republicans in pushing the bill to passage, and sending it to the Senate.

Democrats claimed some victories in the bill, holding off Republican efforts to strip most funding for the president’s Affordable Care Act. They also blocked efforts to reverse Clean Water Act regulations and controls on greenhouse gases. And the bill increases funding for Head Start by more than $1 billion.

But Republicans won some concessions as well. The bill continues the ban on using federal money for abortions. And a GOP provision does cut a billion dollars from the health care law’s Prevention and Public Health Fund. Another prohibits transferring Guantanamo Bay inmates to the U.S.

More broadly, the so-called omnibus bill restores billions in pending automatic cuts to defense and domestic programs. And it exempts disabled veterans and spouses in those killed in action from a 1 percent cost-of-living benefit cut.

President Obama praised the compromise at a Cabinet meeting today.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I was very pleased to see the House and the Senate agree to a budget and to put forward a bill that will fund our government at levels that allow us to take some important steps to provide the services and the help that Americans need, that American families need in order to get ahead in this economy.

KWAME HOLMAN: But the bipartisan spirit didn’t extend to the Senate’s fight over providing benefits for the long-term unemployed. Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid offered to let Republicans have five amendments if they can get 60 votes to pass them.

SEN. HARRY REID, D-Nev.: We want to have relevant amendments. I think that’s only fair. And we hope — we hope for my Republican colleagues, in the interest of getting an up-or-down vote on final passage, that’s something that should — should be fair.

KWAME HOLMAN: Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell quickly scotched that idea.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, R-Ky.: Honestly ridiculous offer that he knows we couldn’t possibly accept, which is that all of our amendments are at 60, final passage is at 51, and no budget points of order are available. They’re typically available on every bill.

KWAME HOLMAN: Later, the two sides blocked each other’s proposals on the floor.

Despite that dispute, the Senate is expected to come together to pass the large spending bill by Saturday, thereby avoiding a new government shutdown.

GWEN IFILL: We take a closer look now at some of the specific provisions in the spending compromise with Ed O’Keefe. He reports on Congress for The Washington Post.

Ed, we want to talk about the details of this budget bill, but I also want to ask you about this unemployment insurance standoff. Does that mean that any effort to extend the unemployment insurance for the long-term unemployed, is that dead tonight?

ED O’KEEFE, The Washington Post: It’s not necessarily dead, but it’s certainly on life support.

I think, as Kwame there outlined, there are sort of procedural wrangling still going on between Democrats and Republicans. Democrats, Republicans wants to get this done, but I think Democrats still continue to insist that Republicans have to follow their will, and that’s causing a lot of consternation for GOP senators.

The bottom line, this issue will not be resolved most likely by the end of the week, and then, of course, the House and Senate are out of town next week for the Martin Luther King holiday, which means that this issue won’t come up again until late January, right before checks would normally go out.

GWEN IFILL: OK.

Well, let’s go back to the budget for a moment. The House and — the Congress moved today on a short-term extension for a few days, and — but the big news, is they’re going to work on this long-term extension.

What is the difference between what they’re trying to work out here?

ED O’KEEFE: Well, really, at this point, you know, it’s all done except for the voting. This is a $1.1 trillion plan to fund the government until the end of the year, no more threat of a shutdown for fiscal 2014 and pretty much for fiscal 2015 as well.

What that means basically is Congress and the federal government overall get back to normal order, to regular order. They now can go back to writing appropriations bills that outline specifically how money is supposed to be spent. Spending levels dip now back to levels that were seen during the late years of the Bush administration, before the economic downturn and the stimulus programs, and about $20 billion gets restored to the military, while other agencies continue to see some cuts.

GWEN IFILL: Let’s talk about some of those. It’s really interesting sometimes to talk about the big numbers, but not to talk about the big impact.

Something like embassy security, which might get lost in the big numbers, there’s actual change in the spending on that?

ED O’KEEFE: That’s right.

Remember, there was a lot of concern after the September 11, 2012, attack on the U.S. outpost in Benghazi, Libya, about embassy security, not only there, but around the world. And there’s a little less in it this year because there was more put in last year, but, essentially, improvements and ongoing construction projects will continue around the world.

There’s also money for temporary diplomatic outposts — outposts, like the location still in Benghazi and the bigger embassy in Tripoli.

GWEN IFILL: How about the president’s efforts to close Guantanamo? Is that affected by what is in this budget?

ED O’KEEFE: Well, he can’t move terrorism detainees out of Gitmo into the United States. That provision stays put.

It’s a long-simmering dispute really between lawmakers and the president. He would like to close it, but he will not be able to move them into a detention facility that he was eying in Illinois, lawmakers still saying it’s too unsafe and too costly to do.

GWEN IFILL: How about Homeland Security and the Transportation Security Administration? We’re all — we have still been obsessed about security and protecting ourselves. Does this budget affect that?

ED O’KEEFE: Sure. The massive Homeland Security Department sees about a $300 million cut in spending.

Some of this is targeted at TSA. It’s not actually seeing a big change in its budget, but it is seeing a big change in policy, in that Republicans successfully were able to get Democrats to agree to begin allowing more private security contractors at some airports.

Now, a lot of Republicans in the post-9/11 era who want to see private companies and not a government agency running security at smaller airports, even some bigger ones. And there are a collection of them around the country that do that. This essentially allows them to begin doing that a little bit more, but still caps overall security personnel to check you as you go in for a flight at about 46,000 workers.

GWEN IFILL: Democrats also had a couple of wins in this, or else obviously they wouldn’t be agreeing to it. And one of them is restoring funds for Head Start. How much is that?

ED O’KEEFE: That’s right.

Overall, the program will see about $8 billion in funding. That’s a big increase over last year. And a lot of the money is going towards things like grants for preschool programs, the Early Head Start program,a big victory for the president. It wasn’t necessarily done the way the Democrats and the White House would have wanted in education funding, but getting that money back in for Head Start was seen as a big victory for Democrats.

GWEN IFILL: And there’s a little foreign policy working out in this budget, too, sending messages to people like Hamid Karzai: Sign the deal that we set up for you, or else.

ED O’KEEFE: Exactly. If the Afghan government doesn’t agree to the bilateral security agreement that is awaiting Karzai’s signature, the government won’t necessarily get more U.S. aid. But there’s still $85 billion set aside of course for ongoing military operations in Afghanistan.

Same goes for Libya. No U.S. aid to Libya until Secretary of State John Kerry ensures that the Libyan government has been cooperating with those investigations into that 2012 attack at the compound in Benghazi.

GWEN IFILL: A lot of policy tucked away behind all those numbers.

Ed O’Keefe, thanks a lot for helping us with it.

ED O’KEEFE: Great to be with you.