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House Watching for ‘Poison Pills’ as Senate Turns to Continuing Resolution

Republicans and Democrats in the House expect to support the Senate’s version of a fiscal 2013 continuing resolution, provided that the spending package doesn’t arrive weighed down with contentious new provisions.

“I perceive this vote as a vote to keep government running, given the bipartisan effort we’ll need to get that done,” Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland said Wednesday. “So my inclination will be to support it if it is not in worse shape than it was reported out of the committee.”

Democratic support in the House could be crucial to clearing a bill (HR 933) the House approved last week but that has grown in scope and has become targeted as a vehicle for special provisions tied to spending since it hit the Senate floor this week.

“We’re watching the amendment process, hoping we don’t get some poison pill,” said House Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers, R-Ky. The Senate bill may clear the House “if the bill comes back substantially as it is,” he said.

Needed to avert a government shutdown after the current stopgap funding bill expires March 27, the continuing resolution got off to a difficult start in the Senate this week, when Republicans Tom Coburn of Oklahoma and John McCain of Arizona imposed a hold on what they said was a measure laden with wasteful spending.

That roadblock evaporated Wednesday, sending the Senate into a series of votes on contentious issues aimed at reshaping policy, scaling back targeted spending programs and adding new requirements, limitations and directions through the appropriations process.

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, began the voting with a move to delay funding for the implementation of the 2010 health care overhaul (PL 111-148, PL 111-152), an amendment that fell on a strict party-line vote in what Democrats said was the 34th fruitless GOP vote to undo the law.

“We cannot in good conscience send millions of immigrant Americans into a dangerously dysfunctional health care system run by unaccountable if well-intentioned bureaucrats,” Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, said in supporting Cruz. “We will not sacrifice millions of families to prove a political point. People’s lives and livelihoods are at stake. The American people are not pawns in Washington’s partisan political game.”

The Senate version of the CR, introduced jointly by Appropriations Chairwoman Barbara A. Mikulski of Maryland and ranking member Richard C. Shelby of Alabama, takes a broader reach than the House bill by including three spending bills — Agriculture, Commerce-Justice-Science and Homeland Security — along with the Defense and Military Construction-Veterans Affairs measures the House included.

Budget hawk Coburn said he did not object to including the additional spending bills that Senate Democrats inserted into the fiscal 2013 package, given that CRs are seen as a poor way to manage programs at federal agencies. “That kills the agencies,” the ranking member on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee said.

The seven remaining bills will be covered by a continuing resolution, and the Senate is adding a larger number of spending exceptions, or anomalies, than the House version included.

“There are many anomalies that are very positive, and there are some aspects of it that we don’t support, but overall it is better than the CR that passed the House,” said Nita M. Lowey of New York, the ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee.

But McCain said he was developing amendments building on his complaints Tuesday that the bill is filled with spending that authorizing committees had sought to eliminate and that had been revived by appropriators. He said he would seek riders to strike funding for a wastewater treatment facility and other projects in Guam, funding set aside for native Hawaiian-owned contractors and $15 million in funding for the Civil Air Patrol.

“We’re giving additional funding to the Civil Air Patrol. Meanwhile, the Air Force is cutting back on their flying hours,” McCain said.

Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky said he planned an amendment that would put limits on foreign aid for Egypt. “We’ve been interested all along in saying that we shouldn’t be sending money to Egypt under these conditions,” Paul said.

Several other senators want to use the CR to give more federal agencies greater flexibility to cushion the effect of spending cuts under sequester. It’s unclear how far they could go with such amendments, however, before provoking a backlash over the bill’s scale.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California said she intended to pursue her amendment aimed at giving intelligence agencies the same flexibility the CR provides the Pentagon to deal with cuts to its operations and maintenance accounts.

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