Washington-- The U.S. Senate approved a $984 billion spending bill on Wednesday ensuring that the federal government will not shut down next week, but also cementing in place $1.2 trillion in unpopular across-the-board spending cuts affecting most reaches of the federal government.
"We didn't want brinkmanship politics, we didn't want ultimatum politics," said Senate Appropriations Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., who negotiated the bipartisan bill with GOP Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama.
The bill passed 73-26.
The stop gap spending bill will avert a March 27 shutdown and keep the federal government running through Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year. President Obama and congressional leaders agreed earlier this year to work together to head off another shutdown fight.
However, bipartisan agreement on how to replace $1.2 trillion in cuts over the next ten years -- known as the sequester -- that kicked in March 1 has eluded a divided Washington despite renewed personal efforts by President Obama to find compromise.
The spending bill approved by the Senate, and expected to be approved by the House and signed by the president later this week, reflects the sequester-mandated levels of spending for the remainder of the fiscal year. The Senate spending bill also includes measures to give the Pentagon and other federal agencies more flexibility to implement the cuts, a further acknowledgement that the reductions are here to stay.
The sequester was included in a 2011 budget law as an enforcement mechanism to get Congress to find $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction on its own or face these unpopular spending cuts. Negotiators failed to find a compromise and the cuts kicked in March 1.
Obama wants to replace the cuts with an equal ratio of targeted spending cuts and new revenues from closing tax loopholes. Republicans oppose any new revenues and are seeking only spending cuts and reforms to entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said Tuesday that the president is engaged in a "prolonged" debate on replacing the sequester. "So it certainly looks as though the sequester will remain imposed for some time unless Republicans have a change of heart about the decision to impose it," Carney said. Republicans counter they are willing to replace the sequester if the president drops his demand for more revenues.
Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin, D-Ill., told reporters that Republicans have had the upper hand in the debate, but that dynamic could change when the public beings to feel the squeeze as furloughs kick in next month.
"I think (Republicans) may be at an advantage at this point by virtue of the fact that the first day of sequester came and America is still in business," he said at a breakfast hosted by The Wall Street Journal. "We almost have to go through a period here of experiencing this and what's going to happen when we have these furloughs and layoffs and changes. I'm hoping that that will build public sentiment for cutting spending in a more thoughtful way."