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House Approves Budget Agreement, Senate Approves Highway Bill Extension

It was a busy Wednesday in the nation’s capital as the House overwhelmingly approved a two-year budget blueprint for the nation, while the Senate passed a three-week extension to the nation’s highway bill.

The House voted late Wednesday 266-167 to approve HR 1314, an $80 billion funding bill that was supported by 79 Republicans and 187 Democrats while the bill was opposed by 167 Republicans.

Reps. Rick Crawford, R-Jonesboro, French Hill, R-Little Rock, and Bruce Westerman, R-Hot Springs, voted no while Rep. Steve Womack, R-Rogers, voted yes.

The vote Wednesday drew opposition from Crawford, Hill and Westerman.

“Not only does this agreement raise budget-busting spending levels without any consent from the vast majority of House members, but this deal also raids policies like crop insurance, which was previously debated in committee and passed into law. Secret, last minute negotiations like this subvert the legislative process and go against the priorities of the Americans we represent, and I cannot support the agreement,” Crawford said.

“Although I am grateful that our national security funding is better assured—and for two full years—and I am delighted with structural reforms to the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program—the first significant reforms to Social Security since 1983—I could not support the Bipartisan Budget Act, which raises the sequester caps and allows for an estimated $1.5 trillion increase in our national debt,” Hill said in a statement.

“I have long supported the sequester caps and supported reallocation of spending under these caps. This proposal does not honor that principle and will increase the financial burden on future generations of Americans. These sorts of ‘budget deals’ make a mockery of the thousands of hours devoted to regular appropriations under an agreed upon budget resolution. Congress is in this position now because Democrats in the Senate have stymied regular appropriations in a timely way and the President’s insistence on more deficit spending for his domestic agenda. The good news with the passing of a budget deal is that it will be the last budget impasse precipitated by President Obama.

“Although the budget deal has passed and will likely be signed into law, I remain dedicated to eliminating wasteful government spending while providing essential funding for critical requirements, such as national security. I fully expect Speaker-Designate Paul Ryan to lead in exercising Congress’s ‘power of the purse’ by insisting on a full and transparent appropriations process.”

“The budget deal approved by the House today is not a good deal for the American people,” Westerman said. “The budget deal that passed the House today raises our debt limit and increases our spending caps while providing no substantial reforms in entitlements and mandatory spending. If my family or business were to reach our debt limit, we would be looking at why we reached the limit and our first response would be to see where we could cut spending to get below our limit, not increase the limit. Simply raising the limit without addressing the cause is not a responsible way to manage.”

However, Womack said the budget agreement will provide Congress a chance to get things done.

“This budget agreement is far from ideal, but providing for our men and women in uniform and for the full faith and credit of the United States is not an option. It is a responsibility. And as an appropriator, I appreciate the fact that it gives our committee a chance to actually do its work,” Womack said.

Roll Call reported Wednesday that the bill drew both strong support and strong opposition, within both major political parties.

“With passage of this important agreement, my committee stands at the ready to implement the details of the deal — going line by line through budgets and making the tough but necessary decisions to fund the entire federal government in a responsible way,” House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rep. Harold Rogers, R-Ky. said. “We will begin work with our Senate counterparts immediately.”

“This deal cements the unacceptable precedent that every dollar of increased defense spending should be matched with a dollar of increased non-defense spending,” Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., said. “This is upside-down: If an emergency requires more defense spending, common sense says we should seek to identify reductions, not hikes, to spending in non-defense accounts.”

“For months, we Democrats have asked for a budget that increases spending significantly above sequester levels, and does so in a way that is equally balanced between defense and key middle-class programs. This agreement does both,” Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-New York, said Wednesday.

According to the Washington Post, the House bill would raise sequester budget caps for two years on defense and domestic spending plus would raise the nation’s debt limit until March 2017.

The bill also includes about $76 billion in spending cuts and increased revenues, the newspaper reported.

The bill will now head to the Senate, where it could be voted on later this week or early next week.

The Senate approved Wednesday a three-week extension on the highway bill.

The extension, which will fund federal highway programs through Nov. 20, was done to give House and Senate committee members an opportunity to iron out differences in the two bills, The Hill newspaper reported.

Sen. John Boozman, R-Arkansas, spokesman Patrick Creamer said the vote helps lead to a permanent solution to the highway funding issue.

“Senator Boozman is pleased that we passed a short term bill to ensure there are no immediate funding lapses,” Creamer said. “The fact that it is only a few weeks is encouraging as it means we are getting close to a long-term deal which Arkansas and other states so desperately need so that they can plan for the future.”

This story comes from the staff of Talk Business & Politics, a content partner with KUAR News. You can hear the weekly program on Mondays at 6:06 p.m.