Tags: congress | shutdown | averted

Congress: Shutdown Averted; Everything but Immigration Funded Through Next Year

By    |   Wednesday, 10 December 2014 06:59 AM

A $1.1 trillion spending bill has been approved by Republicans and Democrats, funding the government to operate normally for another year and delaying an immigration struggle with President Barack Obama until the new Congress takes over.

The compromise will permit virtually the entire government to operate normally through the Sept. 30 end of the fiscal year, with the exception of the Department of Homeland Security, reported The Associated Press.

Funds for that one agency will run out again in late winter. That will give Republicans an opportunity to try to use the expiration as leverage to force Obama to roll back a decision that will suspend the threat of deportation for an estimated 4 million immigrants living in the country illegally.

Several officials said the measure would include a provision permitting multiemployer pension funds to reduce benefits to current retirees, as part of an effort to prevent the slow-motion collapse of a system that provides retirement income to millions.

"The federal government's going to run out of money in two days. ... We've been trying to work with Republican leaders to avoid a shutdown," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada said in midafternoon as final negotiations dragged on.

The GOP high command said they wanted nothing of the kind, and Speaker John Boehner said he expected a vote in the House on the spending bill by Thursday. Failing that, officials said they would prepare a short-term measure to assure uninterrupted operations of government for a day or two to provide enough time for the larger bill to clear both houses.

The events coincided with the end of an era of Democratic control of the Senate. Republicans will have a majority in January after gaining nine seats in midterm elections, and newly elected GOP senators-elect participated in closed-door strategy sessions during the day.

Before time runs out on his majority, Reid said he wanted to assure confirmation of nine more of Obama's judicial nominees and approve the appointment of Vivek Murthy as surgeon general.

Also on Congress' must-do list is legislation to renew a series of expiring tax breaks, and a bill to authorize the Pentagon to train and equip Syrian rebels to fight Islamic State forces in the Middle East.

Not all Republicans agreed with the strategy of postponing a fight over immigration. Some conservative lawmakers demanded a change in the spending measure to deny the use of federal funds to carry out the president's new policy. The leadership ruled otherwise, gambling that even with conservative defections, enough bipartisan support existed for the funding bill to assure its passage.

House Republicans removed one obstacle to passage of the spending measure by announcing they would pass legislation separately to renew a requirement for the federal government to assume some of the insurance risk in losses arising from terrorism.

In talks with Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., Republicans led by Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas., agreed to the renewal, but said they wanted to roll back portions of the 2010 Dodd-Frank law that tightened federal regulation on the financial sector.

The stand-alone bill seemed likely to clear the House, but its fate in the Senate was uncertain.

By contrast, disagreement over an emerging proposal relating to multi-employer pension funds was not along party lines.

Officials said the talks led by Rep. John Kline, R-Min., and George Miller, D-Calif., were designed to preserve benefits of current and future retirees at lower levels than currently exist, but higher than they would be if their pension funds ran out of money.

Also driving the talks was concern over the financial fate of the fund that assures multi-employer pensions at the government's Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. The agency said in its most recent annual report that the fund's deficit rose to $42.2 billion in the fiscal year ending Sept, 30, up from $8.3 billion the previous year, and that the likelihood of its bankruptcy is 90 percent by 2025.

Agency figures show as many as 1.5 million retirees could be affected by any change in law to permit a reduction. An estimated 400,000 of them receive benefits from the Teamsters' Central States Pension Fund.

The spending bill was a work in trade-offs carried out under strict budget caps negotiated in past struggles between Republicans and the White House.

Republicans targeted domestic agencies such as the IRS and the Environmental Protection Agency for cuts while Democrats sought to preserve Amtrak subsidies and Transportation Department "TIGER" grants to state and local governments for infrastructure projects.

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A $1.1 trillion spending bill has been approved by Republicans and Democrats, funding the government to operate normally for another year and delaying an immigration struggle with President Barack Obama until the new Congress takes over.
congress, shutdown, averted
Wednesday, 10 December 2014 06:59 AM
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