US House to vote on election-year spending bill

Senate could pass bill by Saturday

WASHINGTON -     The U.S. House of Representatives votes Wednesday on a $1.1 trillion spending bill that moves beyond three years of partisan fighting over the size and role of government.

   With members of the House facing re-election in November and Republicans noting the depth of voter anger over their 16-day shutdown of the federal government in October, agreements on spending proved possible.

   With polls showing voter approval of Congress at or near record lows, lawmakers wanted to show they were able to perform their most basic function -- responsibly funding the government.

   "The average American looking at this, it looks pretty dysfunctional for the last couple of years," said Rep. Tom Cole, a Republican. "We need to rack up some achievements here -- not just for Republicans but for incumbents in general and for the institution."

   The bill preserves the tighter government spending demanded by Republicans. Yet the bipartisan measure also preserves President Barack Obama's health care overhaul and stricter regulation of financial markets.

   The bill also avoids an additional $20 billion in automatic cuts to the defense Department -- on top of $34 billion imposed last year -- and cuts to many domestic programs. A 2011 law forced deep cuts last year after Obama and Congress failed to negotiate budget savings.

   The Democratic-run Senate was expected to join the House in approving the bill later this week.

   With its sheer size and detail, the measure has plenty for liberals and conservatives to dislike.

   It continues restrictions on federal financing of most abortions, but it lacks Republican-sought curbs on the Environmental Protection Agency's power to regulate utilities' greenhouse gas emissions.

   The primary achievement is that there is an agreement at all. After last year's collapse of the budget process, the government shutdown and another brush with a disastrous default on U.S. debt, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, a Republican, and Senate Budget Committee Chairman Patty Murray, a Democrat, made a deal.

   The agreement avoids a repeat of the 5 percent cut applied to domestic agencies last year and prevents the Pentagon from absorbing the $20 billion in new cuts.

   Challenges remain. Congress needs to raise the government's borrowing cap by the end of February or early March, and it's unclear how big a battle that will be.

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