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House rushes to wrap up year, postpone some battles until new year

From Deirdre Walsh, CNN Congressional Producer
The House of Representatives postponed several looming major legislative battles until next year.
The House of Representatives postponed several looming major legislative battles until next year.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • House passed the spending bill for the Department of Defense, 395-34
  • Democrats tacked to defense bill short-term extensions of expiring programs
  • House also voted to raise the level of the nation's "debt ceiling" by $290 billion
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Washington (CNN) -- With a holiday break looming, the House of Representatives Wednesday rushed to wrap up year-end business, and postponed several major battles until next year.

With an overwhelming vote, 395-34, the House passed the spending bill for the Department of Defense. The $636 billion measure includes money for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan but does not include the additional costs expected for the 30,000 U.S. troops the Obama administration announced it will send to Afghanistan next year. A separate request for those troops is expected to come up for a vote next spring.

Democrats also tacked to the defense bill short-term extensions of several programs set to expire at the end of 2009, including a two-month extension of unemployment assistance and health care coverage for those who have lost their jobs. House Democrats wanted to include a six-month continuation of those items, but were forced to scale back because Senate Democratic leaders made it clear they would not be able pass a longer extension this year.

Because the defense bill is the last spending measure both chambers of Congress will vote on this year, Democratic leaders also attached several other short-term extensions for programs they were unable to tackle by year's end.

To head off a major cut in payments to doctors, the bill keeps in place the current rates Medicare pays to physicians for two more months. The temporary "doc fix" delays until next year the debate over how to pay for a permanent fix for these rates. The bill also extends some key provisions of the Patriot Act for two months.

The House also voted to raise the level of the nation's "debt ceiling" by $290 billion. This allows the Treasury Department to continuing borrowing money for the next two months.

House Democratic leaders wanted to increase the level by as much as $1.9 trillion to allow borrowing through the end of 2010. That would avoid voting on the politically charged issue of deficit spending during an election year.

But Democratic leaders could not reach agreement with fiscal conservatives in the House and Senate who wanted to add to the debt-limit bill tough measures to rein in spending, so leaders opted to pass a two-month bill.

And the House Wednesday evening passed a $154 billion jobs package.

The bill, which passed on a 217-212 vote, taps $75 billion of bank-bailout funds from the treasury to pay for more infrastructure projects and assistance for cash-strapped states. About $48 billion of the so-called TARP funds would pay for highway construction projects, high speed rail, water projects, and school construction. Another $27 billion would go to state and local governments to cover salaries for police, fire fighters and teachers who could face layoffs next year.

The jobs bill also includes $79 billion in "emergency relief" that House Democrats argued did not need to be paid for because the money focuses on economic recovery. The spending includes a six-month extension of unemployment insurance, health care subsidies for those who are out of work, some Medicaid money for states and an extension of the child-care tax credit.

The Senate is not expected to take up a jobs package until next year.

 
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