— WASHINGTON (AP) — The Republican-controlled House approved legislation Wednesday to prevent a government shutdown on March 27 and blunt the impact of newly imposed spending cuts on the Defense Department.
The 267-151 vote sent the measure to the Senate, where Democrats hope to give additional Cabinet agencies similar flexibility in implementing their shares of the $85 billion in spending cuts required to take effect by the end of the budget year.
Republicans said the measure was essential to keep the government operating smoothly after current funding expires on March 27.
Democrats who opposed the measure protested the embedded spending cuts and criticized Republicans for refusing to replace some of them with tax loophole closings.
Ironically, the measure underscored joint efforts by the Obama administration and congressional Republicans to ease the impact of short-term spending cuts that kicked in with dire White House warnings a few days ago. At the same time, both are eager to pocket the full savings for deficit reduction as they pivot to a new clash over Medicare next week, when House Republicans and Senate Democrats are expected to unveil rival budgets.
The overall size of the cuts in the no-shutdown spending bill remains in place: $85 billion in reductions through the end of the budget year on Sept. 30, half from defense and half from domestic programs as diverse as education, parks and payments to doctors and hospitals treating Medicare patients.
But legislation drafted by House Republicans to prevent a government shutdown on March 27 also gives the Pentagon and the Veterans Affairs Department flexibility to allocate cuts that no agency currently has.
Senate Democrats seem likely to agree to the flexibility if it can be expanded to include other agencies, according to several officials who described closed-door talks that also involved the White House. Among the candidates are the departments of Homeland Security, Transportation, Justice and State. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity, saying they were not authorized to disclose details.