Spending bill keeps government open, directs millions to Md.
By By John Fritze and The Baltimore Sun
Jan 13, 2014 | 9:36 PM
Senior lawmakers unveiled a $1.1 trillion spending bill late Monday that would keep the federal government running for most of this year while directing hundreds of millions of dollars to Maryland interests — from the James Webb Space Telescope to blue collar federal workers.
The bipartisan legislation, which if approved would avert another government shutdown, was the first major funding measure of its kind negotiated by Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski since the Maryland Democrat became chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee in late 2012.
Though conservative groups oppose the bill because it initially spends more than was called for under federal budget cuts known as sequestration, the measure is expected to move quickly this week. The House of Representatives is likely to take it up Wednesday, followed by the Senate.
"This agreement shows the American people that we can compromise, and that we can govern," Mikulski said in a statement. "It puts an end to shutdown, slowdown, slamdown politics."
Lawmakers no longer have the ability to tuck pet projects, known as earmarks, into appropriations bills. But the measure includes funding for several programs Mikulski has long supported — underscoring the influence she can wield for the state as chair of the powerful committee.
The bill includes $658 million for the Webb telescope — an increase over current spending that matches what the Obama administration had requested. The telescope, which is on track to launch in 2018, is being built at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt.
The bill includes nearly $60 million for dredging and other projects related to the port of Baltimore, which is preparing to accept larger container ships following the expansion of the Panama Canal.
Blue collar federal workers, who had been excluded from a 1 percent pay increase negotiated by Congress last year, would now receive the same bump in salary, Mikulski announced Monday. It is the first cost of living adjustment for truck drivers, plumbers and workers in similar jobs in the federal government in three years.
Mikulski described the raise as overdue and modest. She said the workers "have been the targets of unending attacks. They've been furloughed, laid off and locked out through no fault of their own."
J. David Cox Sr., president of the American Federal of Government Employees, thanked Mikulski and Rep. Steny Hoyer, a Southern Maryland Democrat, for pushing for the raise.
"Congress clearly recognizes the importance of ensuring pay parity for all federal employees, regardless of which pay system they fall into," he said. "I am glad that this inequality was corrected."
As lawmakers began poring over the nearly 1,600-pagebill late Monday, members from both parties said the legislation represented an important break from the recent practice of lurching from crisis to crisis on fiscal matters. Thatpattern culminated last October in the third-longest shutdown in the government's history.
"This gets the train back on the track," said Rep. Hal Rogers of Kentucky, the Republican House Appropriations Committee chairman, who negotiated the deal with Mikulski.
Maryland is home is some 300,000 federal employees and several major agencies, including the Social Security Administration in Woodlawn and the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda. Independent economists believe the state's economy weathered the economic downturn better than other states in large part because of the federal presence.
Another shutdown is scheduled to occur at midnight Wednesday if Congress fails to approve new spending authority. A three-day temporary extension will be needed to get the full spending bill passed this week.
Negotiations on the larger dealbogged down over the winter recess as lawmakers attempted to attach policy provisions on issues ranging from restricting abortions to curtailing regulation of carbon emissions. Most of these — including new abortion provisions — were kept out of the spending bill, Mikulski told reporters.
Other Maryland provisions in the bill include more than a dozen construction projects on military bases in the state. The measure includes $210 million to build laboratory facilities at the Aberdeen Proving Ground and more than $200 million for cyber operationsat Fort Meade, home of the National Security Agency.
The bill would also repeal part of a controversial cut to some military pensions that was included in a budget agreement approved by Congress last month. Military retirees of working age were to see smaller cost-of-living increases in their pensions starting in 2015, but it was later discovered that the change was inadvertently applied to disabled veterans and survivors of deceased veterans as well.