* Appropriations committees spar over Obamacare, IRS funding
* Obama hails first annual budget bill passed since 2009
* Senators vow to change military pension cuts
By David Lawder and Richard Cowan
WASHINGTON, Dec 18 The U.S. Senate passed a
two-year budget deal on Wednesday to ease automatic spending
cuts and reduce the risk of a government shutdown, but fights
were already breaking out over how to implement the budget pact.
By a vote of 64-36, the Senate sent the measure to President
Barack Obama to be signed into law, an achievement for a divided
Congress that has failed to agree on a budget since 2009.
"All told, it's a good first step away from the
shortsighted, crisis-driven decision-making that has only served
to act as a drag on our economy," Obama said in a statement.
He also urged Congress to pass an extension of long-term
unemployment benefits that expire at year-end for some 1.3
million jobless Americans, a move sought by Democrats that was
not part of the deal struck by Republican Representative Paul
Ryan and Democratic Senator Patty Murray.
The budget measure, passed in the House of Representatives
last week by an overwhelming margin, restores overall fiscal
2014 spending levels for government agencies to $1.012 trillion,
trimming the across-the-board budget cuts that were set to begin
next month by about $63 billion over two years.
It pays for the additional near-term spending with a variety
of other savings, including increased airport security fees paid
by airline passengers and pension benefit cuts for new federal
employees and working-age military retirees.
Wednesday's vote fired the starting gun on a mad dash by the
House and Senate Appropriations committees to assemble a massive
spending bill that implements the deal and carves up the funding
pie among thousands of government programs from national parks
to the military.
Without the new spending authority, the federal government
on Jan. 15 could partially shut down, as it did for 16 days last
Not surprisingly, one of fights ahead involves funding of
"Obamacare," the president's signature healthcare law, according
to Republican and Democratic aides in the House and Senate.
"It's one of many flashpoints," said a House Republican aide
who asked not to be identified, adding, "But it's not
Republicans are warning that they will not tolerate any
increase in funding for administering the troubled health
insurance reform law. Democrats hope to maintain or add small
amounts of money for the program they say will provide healtcare
to millions of previously uninsured people.
As is the case with all spending bills in a deeply divided
Congress, there are plenty of other disagreements besides the
Obamacare funding level.
Among the most difficult will be money for the Internal
Revenue Service, the nation's tax collector; funds for western
wildfire fighting and for the Yucca Mountain, Nevada, nuclear
Separate battles also could be waged over policy proposals
that House Republican leaders are likely to attach to the
These could include forcing the Obama administration to
approve a controversial Keystone oil pipeline from Canada to the
U.S. Gulf of Mexico.
There also could be moves to stop the Environmental
Protection Agency from enforcing carbon emissions regulations
that the coal industry hates and to block federal money for
building a California high-speed train.
Given all of the disagreements, one House Democratic aide
familiar with the appropriations process that is under way
warned: "Nobody should be getting ahead of themselves; it's not
a given that we're out of the woods" in passing the bill that
would carry out the budget deal and avoid a Jan. 15 government
The budget plan won support from some of the most
conservative House members, as well as nine Republicans in the
But congressional aides said there nonetheless are worries
that some of those conservatives might balk at the prospect of
voting for a $1 trillion spending bill that wraps a slew of
controversial programs into one gigantic package.
"There was broad bipartisan support for the (budget) deal.
There should be the same broad bipartisan vote for the package
implementing that deal," said the House Democratic aide, adding,
"This is a very open question."
The House Republican aide echoed those concerns.
MILITARY PENSION ANGST
The budget measure passed over objections from senators in
both parties to a pension benefit cut for military retirees,
vowing to make changes to the provision before it takes effect
The plan provides $6 billion in 10-year savings by reducing
annual cost of living adjustments for retirees under age 62, who
often draw pensions while pursuing a second career outside the
military. But some Republicans said the bill's language would
also apply the reduction to veterans who had to retire because
of war wounds - not what they intended with wars in Iraq and
Afghanistan still winding down.
"The military retiree provision is a pay-for that has got
everybody wondering. And upon a second evaluation, it's
probably, certainly not the right thing to do," said Senator
Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican.