WASHINGTON — The House voted Thursday to put the government on autopilot for six months, precluding a shutdown through the election and postponing a potential showdown on GOP vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan’s agency budget cuts until next spring when Republicans hope to hold more power in Washington.
Ryan returned to the Capitol from the campaign trail to vote for the half-year measure, even though it spends billions of dollars more than the Wisconsin lawmaker’s budget plan, which has helped define the tight race for the White House.
The bipartisan 329-91 vote for the measure sends it to the Senate, which is expected to clear it next week for President Barack Obama’s signature, capping a year of futility and gridlock despite a hard-fought budget deal last summer.
The measure funds the day-to-day operating budgets of Cabinet agencies that are financed annually by Congress through 12 appropriations bills. It would fund the government through March 27 and relieve lawmakers of the burden of trying to pass a catchall omnibus spending measure during a postelection lame duck session.
While taking the possibility of a government shutdown out of the equation, Thursday’s measure leaves in place the so-called fiscal cliff — a combination of automatic spending cuts and tax hikes set to slam the economy in January. More than $100 billion in cuts to defense and domestic programs alike are looming as punishment for the failure of last year’s deficit-reduction supercommittee to strike a follow-up bargain to last summer’s debt and budget pact between Obama and Congress. The automatic cuts are set to hit at the same time that the Bush-era tax cuts, which were extended two years ago, are set to expire again.
Also Thursday the House approved a curiously-drafted bill that aims to turn off the $100 billion-plus in automatic spending cuts due to take effect Jan. 2.
But the measure, ambitiously titled “National Security and Job Protection Act,” would only turn off the automatic cuts if Congress were to enact a separate package of big spending cuts. If Congress were to pass such a bill, of course, lawmakers would use that legislation to block the across-the-board cuts.