Congress clears bill to avoid U.S. government shutdown

Meat Inspection

The bill, which runs 1,000 pages including explanatory documents, doesn’t attempt to fix the $85 billion in automatic budget cuts, also known as sequestration. It does make special accommodations though for some programs. The Senate added provisions aimed at preventing furloughs of government meat inspectors triggered by the cuts. Meatpacking plants are barred from operating without daily federal oversight.

“Backlogs in food inspections could result in the shutdown of processing facilities and send devastating ripple effects through rural communities and straight to the shelves of every market and grocery in the country,” said Senator Christopher Coons, a Delaware Democrat.

The measure also orders the Pentagon to continue a tuition-assistance program for service members that had been suspended in response to the automatic spending cuts.

Funding Increases

The bill provides some programs with modest funding increases that may also help soften sequestration’s blow. It would provide an additional $10 billion for the Defense Department’s “operations and maintenance” accounts, which pay to train troops, maintain weapons and other daily operations, and includes an additional $250 million for the Women, Infants and Children program, which provides nutritional assistance to low-income mothers. Under sequestration, the WIC program had been reduced by about $350 million.

In many cases, though, the additional funding is a fraction of what was cut. The National Institutes of Health, the government’s medical research arm, would receive a $71 million increase -- even as it takes a $1.5 billion sequestration hit.

Democrats had sought to give agencies expanded authority to rework their budgets to accommodate sequestration. Republicans opposed that because they said it would usurp the power of Congress to control spending.

In all, the measure would provide $1.043 trillion in non- emergency funding, though sequestration will reduce that to about $984 billion. The bill also includes about $100 billion in “emergency” war-related money.

It would extend a pay freeze for federal workers and fund efforts to restore the Capitol’s cast-iron dome, one of the oldest such structures in the world.

In addition, it would provide a $193,400 “bereavement payment” to the wife of the late Hawaii Senator Daniel Inouye, a Democrat who died in December. It’s a tradition in Congress to provide one year’s salary to the survivor of a lawmaker who dies in office.

The bill is H.R. 933.

Bloomberg News

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