* Congress avoids brinkmanship this time
* Raises loan limits, squeezes CFTC
By Andy Sullivan
WASHINGTON, Nov 17 The U.S. Congress on
Thursday found a rare moment of accord in the budget fights
that have paralyzed Washington this year as lawmakers voted to
extend government funding through December.
The Democratic-controlled Senate by a vote of 70 to 30
passed a bill that would allow the government to keep running
when current funding expires on Saturday and sent it to
President Barack Obama to sign into law.
The Republican-controlled House of Representatives had
approved the bill by a vote of 298 to 121 earlier in the day.
Though 101 House Republicans voted against the bill, the
debate lacked the drama of other spending battles this year
that have shaken consumer confidence and led to a first-ever
Congress's most basic task is to oversee the federal purse
strings, yet lawmakers took the government to the brink of a
shutdown in April and the edge of default in August. Another
round of brinkmanship ensued in September over what is normally
a routine vote to extend funding.
This time, lawmakers who oversee more than $1 trillion in
discretionary spending resolved their differences in an orderly
"It's like a breath of fresh air has blown through this
chamber," said Republican Representative Steven LaTourette.
"This wasn't a my-way-or-the-highway negotiation."
Republicans have pushed for steep spending cuts to rein in
the federal government and slow the growth of the $15 trillion
debt, while Democrats have warned that cutbacks could hurt
those struggling to make ends meet in a shaky economy.
After a bruising fight to extend the government's borrowing
authority in the summer, Republicans agreed to a spending cap
of $1.043 trillion, only $6 billion below last year. That
figure does not include spending on benefit programs that are
outside the reach of the yearly budget cycle.
REDUCED SPENDING FOR TWO YEARS IN A ROW
Congress is now on track to reduce discretionary spending
for the second year in a row after a decade of steady
"This bill is the next step in breaking the status quo of
excessive federal spending that is throwing our budgets out of
whack," said Representative Hal Rogers, who oversees spending
as chairman of the Appropriations Committee.
Democrats managed to restore funds to food stamps, housing
subsidies for the poor and other programs that had been
targeted by Republicans.
The bill sets new funding levels for a wide range of
government activities, from law enforcement to public housing
to space exploration, for the fiscal year that started on Oct.
1. Congress is supposed to pass its spending bills by that date
each year but rarely manages to do so.
Other programs not covered by the bill, from financial
regulation to the Pentagon, are funded at last year's levels
through Dec. 16. Lawmakers hope to resolve their differences on
the remaining programs by then.
The bill is not without its flash points.
It would increase the maximum size of mortgage loans that
can be insured by the Federal Housing Administration, over the
objections of conservatives who want to scale back the
government's role in the mortgage markets.
The Commodity Futures Trading Commission was denied the big
budget boost that the White House had requested as it puts in
place financial reforms and investigates bankrupt brokerage MF
Democratic Representative Barney Frank warned that
inadequate funding could lead to a repetition of the 2008
The bill also restricts the Agriculture Department from
requiring schools to serve more fresh fruits, vegetables and
whole grains as part of an effort to fight obesity. Republicans
said that would have cost $7 billion more over five years.