Analysis: Spending bill a triumph of divided gov't

AP News
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Posted: Dec 15, 2014 7:05 AM
Analysis: Spending bill a triumph of divided gov't

WASHINGTON (AP) — After drawing opposition from both ends of the political spectrum, the $1.1 trillion spending bill cleared for President Barack Obama's signature stands as a triumph of divided government.

It's the first of its kind for a while, and may also be the last.

"Remember this bill was put together in a bicameral, bipartisan way," House Speaker John Boehner said. Large numbers of lawmakers on both sides of the political divide would rather forget parts of the bill, as evidenced by relatively close votes, 219-206 in the House and 56-40 in the Senate.

The legislation quietly locks in billions of dollars in spending cuts that the tea party-strengthened Republicans extracted from Democrats in recent years in a tumultuous string of battles. Equally without much fuss, it reduces staffing at the agency the GOP dislikes the most, the Environmental Protection Agency, to levels last seen in 1989.

Yet it maintains funding for President Barack Obama's health care program that Republicans loathe so heartily that they shut down the government last year rather than spend any money on it. And it provides additional money for health research that Democrats favor, and most of what the administration sought to combat Ebola.

It is stocked with provisions to prevent the use of federal funds to pay for abortions, and with another to block the government from giving endangered species list protection to the sage grouse. More points on the Republican side of the ledger.

But it doesn't tamper with the administration's proposed greenhouse gas regulation, or allow guns on Army Corps of Engineers land, changes that conservatives favored. Modest victories for the Democrats.

Obama echoed Boehner's assessment on Friday as he urged the Senate to approve the legislation — one day after he had been publicly chastised by Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the leader of his own party in the House.

"This is what's produced when you have the divided government that the American people voted for," he said. "I think what the American people very much are looking for is some practical governance and the willingness to compromise and that's what this bill reflects."

Except that political leaders in both parties tend to preach bipartisanship far more than they voluntarily practice it.

And possible presidential contenders on the verge of a campaign practice it even less often.

That explains Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who emerged as the Senate's most aggressive foe of the bill. He'll need support from tea party-aligned voters in primaries if he runs, not middle-of-the-roaders eager for compromise.

In fact, House Republicans in general weren't exactly thrilled with the bill, which made no attempt to challenge Obama's immigration policy. And within moments of its passage, Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana, the third-ranking GOP leader, made it sound like the entire 1,764-page measure was merely the price Republicans had to pay to resume legislative hostilities with the president in the new year.

"That battle begins in just four weeks when we get the reinforcements of a Republican Senate in January," he said, echoing promises made by Sen. Mitch McConnell and other GOP leaders on the other side of the Capitol.

A few weeks after that, money runs out for the Homeland Security Department. By Republican reckoning, that's when they will have leverage to force Obama to roll back a policy that envisions work visas for 5 million immigrants living in the country illegally.

Then, unlike now, there will be no threat of a government-wide shutdown looming in the background.

Republicans weren't the only ones who said they were looking ahead.

Pelosi called the legislation a Republican attempt at "blackmail," citing a provision that rolls back a regulation imposed on banks after the economic calamity of 2008.

Next, she publicly reprimanded Obama for embracing it. Fifty-seven Democrats voted for it regardless, exposing deep divisions inside the party that were also echoed in the Senate. Pelosi claimed victory anyway.

"We strengthened our position to achieve common sense solutions" in the new Congress that convenes in January," she wrote to her members. "We hope to do so in a bipartisan way, but stand ready to sustain the president's veto when necessary," she added pointedly.

Obama made no mention of vetoes in his own remarks a day later.

He said if he'd been able to write the spending measure, "I suspect it'd be slightly different," but Americans want to see willingness to compromise.

So said the president whose party lost the midterm elections.

The winning Republicans aren't likely to see things quite that way.

They intend to challenge Obama's policies on immigration, health care and the environment, and probably will produce a 10-year balanced budget plan that Democrats will not abide.

That's a different version of divided government, one where the Republicans are all on one side and the Democrats are all on the other.

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EDITOR'S NOTE — David Espo is chief congressional correspondent for The Associated Press.