House OKs $1.1 trillion in 2014 spending

Herald Washington BureauJanuary 16, 2014 

WASHINGTON -- The House of Representatives approved a $1.1 trillion budget by 359-67 on Wednesday, but few were happy with the massive bill, and dozens of conservatives lined up squarely against it.

The Senate is expected to consider the package Thursday and Friday. Senate leaders are banking on the strong House vote to send a message to wavering colleagues that constituents are eager to see lawmakers engage in compromise and avoid another government shutdown.

The spending bill includes two important provisions to Florida -- a delay in flood insurance hikes and funding to combat a deadly disease crippling the state's citrus industry.

The bill's flood insurance delay bars the Federal Emergency Management Agency from using its 2014 funding allotment to implement higher flood insurance premiums for existing policyholders who find themselves below elevation after remapping and facing outsized premium increases. According to a FEMA actuary, these delayed rates could affect 78,812 policyholders out of 109,273

total NFIP policyholders in Florida's 16th District.

"Hundreds of thousands of Floridians are experiencing untenable rate increases that threaten to wash away property values and push people out of their homes," said Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota, who co-chairs Florida's congressional delegation. "This bill will provide immediate relief for most policyholders while providing time for Congress to work on a permanent solution that reforms the nation's flood insurance program."

The package includes $20 million in federal funding to fight the deadly citrus greening disease. Florida is expecting its smallest orange crop harvest in 24 years.

"Citrus greening is threatening the future of Florida's oranges and the related jobs right here in Sarasota and Manatee Counties," said Buchanan in a press release.

Buchanan is also the author of House Resolution 853, to provide research funding devoted to finding a citrus greening cure.

The House vote on the budget was bipartisan, as 193 Democrats and 166 Republicans backed the omnibus bill. Sixty-four Republicans and three Democrats were opposed.

Spending authority was to run out Wednesday, but Congress gave itself three extra days to consider the new plan. Few wanted a repeat of October's partial shutdown, which drove Congress' approval ratings under 10 percent and caused what might be long-lasting political damage.

The White House supports the bill, which details spending for discretionary programs, which are those that Congress and the White House can more easily control. About half would be spent on defense and half on domestic programs.

Once President Barack Obama signs the measure, Americans will see its impact almost immediately.

The new bill, one of the few line-by-line blueprints for government spending in recent years, had something for everyone -- and some reasons for disappointment for everyone.

"It could have been worse," said Rep. David Price, D-N.C. He decried what he termed "devastating cuts" in local, education and human services programs but he urged colleagues to support the bill.

Federal and military personnel will get a 1 percent pay raise. More agents will patrol the nation's borders. Head Start, the early childhood education program, will get more funding. Money will be provided to fight "yellow dragon disease," which is affecting the nation's citrus industry.

The grumbling Wednesday often involved what wasn't in the 1,582-page bill.

"We need to curb our enthusiasm. The numbers in this bill are awful," said Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass.

Most Democrats were at least pleased that the bill spends more than was set under the sequester, the automatic spending limits scheduled to go into effect without a budget agreement.

Democrats were livid, though, that nothing's being done to extend emergency unemployment benefits to the 1.3 million people who lost that aid Dec. 28.

"They are throwing them to the wolves," charged Rep. Sander Levin, D-Mich.

An effort to restore the benefits stalled this week in the Senate, and it's unlikely to be revived for several weeks.

Republicans split over the bill. Party leaders touted local benefits and pointed to some smaller victories. Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, for instance, praised funding for wildfire suppression.

Republicans welcomed the cut in funding for the new health care law's Independent Payment Advisory Board, which recommends changes in Medicare.

The bill continues restrictions on federal funding of most abortions, and bars paying to transfer Guantanamo Bay detainees to the United States or its territories.

A lot of Republican conservatives were aggressive in their disdain for the bill.

"We will still have a $600 billion budget deficit this year. That's simply not good enough," said Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan.

Conservatives have railed against such huge bills for years, saying they're impossible for the public to read or understand and often contain hidden goodies for lawmakers.

"It's frustrating. We complain about big bills when Democrats are in charge of Congress," said Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho. "But we have big bills when we're in charge of Congress."

Helping to push the conservatives were activist groups, which issued reminders that they'd remember this vote at election time. Heritage Action sent supporters a warning that the bill "increases spending, in some cases dramatically."

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