WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. lawmakers on Thursday combined a must-pass bill that would avoid a government shutdown with a measure that boosts pay for their staffers, angering Republicans who said they should vote separately on the two measures.
Congress must pass a temporary spending bill before the new fiscal year starts on October 1 to keep the government running because lawmakers have not completed work on the 12 bills that fund government operations.
Combining that temporary bill with one that funds congressional operations for the next fiscal year ensures that it will face minimal procedural hurdles and come up for a vote in both chambers quickly. The House of Representatives is expected to vote on the measure on Thursday or Friday.
The move also presents House Republicans, who lost control of Congress in 2006, with a difficult choice. If they vote against the bill, they could be seen as encouraging a shutdown of the federal government.
If they vote for it they will also approve an increase in their own office budgets, which could anger conservative constituents concerned about increased government spending.
“This has got to be one of the most cynical legislative maneuvers I’ve ever seen,” said Representative Jerry Lewis, the top Republican on the House Appropriations Committee.
“I find that accusation quaint,” committee chairman David Obey replied, pointing out that Republicans used a similar tactic in 2006 when they combined a temporary spending bill with one that funds the Pentagon.
Few House Republicans voted for the congressional-spending bill when it came up for a vote in June. The measure includes an 8 percent increase for House lawmakers’ offices, including staff salaries and travel costs, and introduces perks such as tuition reimbursement and child care to keep up with similar benefits in the Senate.
The bill does not increase salaries for lawmakers themselves. Republicans have criticized the increases as inappropriate at a time when the country is struggling with the worst economic downturn since the 1930s.
The temporary spending measure would fund government operations largely at their current levels through October 31, with a boost for veterans’ medical care and Census operations.
It would prohibit federal funds from going to ACORN, a liberal grass-roots group facing an avalanche of scorn after a conservative activist secretly videotaped employees giving tax advice to a couple who said they wanted to set up a brothel.
Obey said the ban on ACORN funding is likely to be extended through the entire fiscal year when those spending bills are finished.