U.S. Spending Bill Passes House, Moves to Senate

Banks would be allowed to keep derivatives in units with federal backstops, and underfunded multi-employer pensions would be allowed to reduce benefits.

The Senate begins debate on a $1.1 trillion U.S. government spending bill today after turmoil in the House yielded narrow passage of the plan amid opposition from Democrats and Republicans alike.

“There are no perfect bills,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said on the Senate floor minutes after the House passed the proposal 219-206 late yesterday. “But this bill is so much better than” a three-month measure that would risk another shutdown fight in early 2015, the Democrat said.

The Senate may pass it as soon as today if opponents such as Democrat Elizabeth Warren and Republican Ted Cruz consent.

Many Democrats including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi opposed the bill because it includes a banking provision they call a giveaway to large institutions. Some Republicans were against the measure because it puts off a confrontation over Obama’s immigration policy until 2015.

With government funding set to expire at midnight, the funding vote was delayed for seven hours as Speaker John Boehner sought to round up Republican support and President Barack Obama telephoned Democrats.

The measure would fund most of the government through September. Both chambers passed a two-day spending measure to give the Senate time to act and avoid a shutdown.

Because the phone calls by Obama and Vice President Joe Biden began late, “the impact was a lot less than it might have been,” said Representative Gerry Connolly of Virginia said. He said the effort swayed some votes.

“I know that the president was whipping and he was supporting this bill and I know that Jamie Dimon was whipping,” said Representative Maxine Waters, a California Democrat, referring to Dimon, chairman of JPMorgan Chase & Co. “That’s an odd combination.”

Pelosi’s opposition marked a rare disagreement with the White House. The bill, H.R. 83, passed with the support of 162 Republicans and 57 Democrats and was opposed by 67 Republicans and 139 Democrats.

House Democrats met with White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, who “made a very strong pitch” for the bill, said Representative Chaka Fattah of Pennsylvania.

Pelosi, in a message to fellow Democrats earlier in the day, said Republicans’ inability to pass the bill on their own “increases our leverage to get two offensive provisions of the bill removed: the bank bailout and big money for campaigns provision.” Still, those provisions remained in the bill.

 

Derivatives Trades

The banking language, insisted upon by Republicans, would ease rules enacted to protect taxpayers against bank losses after souring derivatives trades helped cause the 2008 financial crisis. The dispute over the banking rule is a preview of Republican plans to roll back other business regulations when they take control of both chambers in 2015. The provision would let JPMorgan, Citigroup Inc., and other lenders keep swaps trading in units with federal backstops.

“Citigroup is holding government funding hostage to ram through its government bailout provision. Join me in opposing the #CitigroupShutdown,” Warren of Massachusetts said in a message posted on Twitter.

The campaign provision would permit a tenfold increase in donations that individuals can make to national political parties each year, to $324,000 from $32,400.

The campaign-finance language would let donors give $97,200 a year to each of three party committees for conventions, to pay for building funds, and to finance the expenses for recounts and legal challenges to election results.

Democrats showed their displeasure over the banking provision by voting earlier against a procedural measure to set rules for debate on the spending bill. That passed 214-212, with 16 Republicans joining the Democrats in opposition.

Representative Luis Gutierrez, an Illinois Democrat, said he opposed the spending bill because it gives bankers priority over initiatives such as the Pell Grant college-aid program.

“How can you justify eliminating hundreds of millions of dollars from the Pell Grant program and then give the bankers on Wall Street an avenue in which to enrich themselves?” Gutierrez said.

A deal on the spending bill was announced Dec. 9 after Senate Democratic negotiators accepted the banking rule changes and Republican demands on other policy provisions.

Among the House Democrats Obama called to seek support were Congressional Black Caucus Chairwoman Marcia Fudge of Ohio and Representative G.K. Butterfield of North Carolina, according to a White House official. Both voted against the spending bill.

White House Budget Director Shaun Donovan called South Carolina Representative Jim Clyburn, a member of the Democratic leadership, according to the White House official. Clyburn voted “yes.”

Other Democrats supporting the bill included Majority Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland and John Dingell of Michigan, who is leaving the House after 59 years, the longest tenure in history.

Republican opponents included Tom Cotton of Arkansas, who was elected to the Senate last month, and Dave Brat of Virginia, who defeated former Majority Leader Eric Cantor in a primary this year.

Though Democrats weren’t pleased about the policy provisions, they said they beat back dozens of others that Republicans had sought, including revisions focused on environmental and labor protections.

 

Homeland Security

The Department of Homeland Security, responsible for immigration policy, would be financed only through Feb. 27. Republicans want to use the agency’s spending bill to block Obama from easing deportation rules for millions of undocumented immigrants.

Last year, Republican efforts to defund Obama’s health care law led to a 16-day partial government shutdown.

The funding measure would allow exceptions to clean-water laws for agricultural refuse, and block the District of Columbia from spending money to legalize marijuana following a voter-approved measure allowing possession of as much as 2 ounces for personal use.

The plan would roll back safety rules on rest for truck drivers, ignoring the pleas of consumer activists and Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. The provision would temporarily suspend rules while a study is conducted about the number of trucks driven on congested roads. Under the change, truckers would be able to work as many as 82 hours a week.

The plan includes a proposal sought by the National Rifle Association that lets gun manufacturers use lead to produce ammunition, and a labor provision exempting claim adjusters from overtime requirements during major disasters.

The measure would also seek to shore up the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. (PBGC) by allowing some underfunded multiemployer pension plans to reduce benefits. The provision reflects an agreement by House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline, a Minnesota Republican, and senior Democrat George Miller, a California Democrat.

 

--With assistance from Kathleen Miller, Derek Wallbank, James Rowley, Kathleen Hunter, Richard Rubin, Angela Greiling Keane and Jonathan Allen in Washington.

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