It looks like last month's bipartisan budget agreement in Congress was not just a passing fad after all.
With the damaging effects of last fall's government shutdown still fresh on everyone's minds, a massive $1.1 trillion spending bill to fund the government through October is getting generally positive reviews from Republicans and Democrats alike. The GOP-led House is slated to pass the 1,582-page bill Wednesday.
The measure doesn't contain in-your-face victories for either side, and in fact contains dozens of trade-offs between the two parties as it fleshes out the details of the budget deal that Congress passed last month, the Associated Press reports. The primary achievement was that there was an agreement in the first place after the collapse of the budget process last year.
For Democrats, the bill provides new money for preschool programs and high-priority highway projects. It maintains rent subsidies for the poor, and fully funds the $6.7 billion budget for food aid for low-income pregnant women and their children. The Obama administration would be denied money to meet its full commitments to the International Monetary Fund but get much of the money it wanted to pay for implementation of the new health care law and the 2010 overhaul of financial regulations.
A conservative-backed initiative to block the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gas emissions was abandoned and social conservatives failed to win new restrictions on abortion.
At the same time, money for Obama's high-speed rail program would be cut off -- a defeat for California Democrats -- and rules restricting the sale of less efficient incandescent light bulbs would be blocked.
The bill awards federal civilian and military workers a 1 percent raise, beefs up security at U.S. embassies across the globe, and would spare the Pentagon from a second-wave cut of $20 billion on top of last year's $34 billion sequestration cut, which forced furloughs of civilian employees and harmed training and readiness accounts.
At the same time, the bill is laced with sweeteners, the AP reports. One is a provision exempting disabled veterans and war widows from a pension cut enacted last month, and the bill contains increases for veterans' medical care backed by both sides. Yet the National Institutes of Health's proposed budget of $29.9 billion falls short of the $31 billion budget it won when Democrats controlled Congress.
Finally, in what's sure to be a relief for rural states like Vermont, the bill contains a longstanding provision blocking the Postal Service from ending Saturday mail delivery and closing rural post offices.
The bill is not perfect by any means. For one thing, it would raise spending, with deficits projected to rise slightly for the next three years. And it does nothing to curb Congress' insatiable appetite for pork. But those are things that need to be dealt with through careful consideration, not while in crisis mode under the threat of more gridlock, a default on our current debt obligations or another government shutdown.
For now, it's a relief that Congress has recommitted itself to reaching across the aisle to find workable solutions that, while not perfect, at least steer us away from the constant gridlock and partisan one-upmanship of the recent past.
As Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., told the AP, "This agreement shows the American people that we can compromise, and that we can govern. It puts an end to shutdown, slowdown, slamdown politics."
That in itself is a refreshing change.