Congressional roundup: Funding the government, food safety and START

The U.S. Senate approved a continuing resolution today to fund the federal government at current levels through March 4, 2011. Both the cloture motion and the bill itself passed by large bipartisan majorities; Iowa Democrat Tom Harkin and Republican Chuck Grassley voted for the cloture motion and the funding resolution. Harkin slammed Republicans for blocking the fiscal year 2011 omnibus bill last week, because unlike the continuing resolution approved today, the omnibus bill would have increased funding for programs such as Head Start, child care subsidies, meals for seniors and drugs for AIDS patients. The House of Representatives is expected to approve the continuing resolution later today to stop the government from running out of money at midnight. UPDATE: The House approved the spending bill by 193 to 165, with 75 representatives not voting. All five Iowans voted, and they split along party lines.

A bigger problem will come in March, when House Republicans force through major cuts in domestic spending (probably with the eager cooperation of President Barack Obama). Those will be a drag on the economy, erasing any stimulative effect from the lousy deal Obama struck on extending the Bush tax cuts.

Meanwhile, the House gave final approval to the food safety bill today on a mostly party-line vote of 215 to 144. Iowa’s representatives split the usual way, with Democrats Bruce Braley, Dave Loebsack and Leonard Boswell voting for the bill and Republicans Tom Latham and Steve King voting against it. I am still surprised that the Senate resurrected the food safety bill on Sunday. I have yet to see any explanation for why Republican Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma agreed to let it pass. Coburn had been that bill’s most vocal opponent in the Senate all year. It’s not as if Coburn suddenly decided to stop being a jerk; he appears ready to block the 9/11 responders bill from becoming law during the lame-duck session. Even some Fox News commentators are upset about that political maneuver.

The Senate took a step toward ratifying the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) today. Eleven Republicans joined all Democrats present to approve a cloture motion on that treaty, which the U.S. and Russia signed in April. Grassley voted with most of his GOP colleagues against the cloture motion on START; he has voted for various Republican amendments offered to the treaty. I haven’t seen any statement from his office explaining his opposition. The last START expired in December 2009, and we need to ratify the new treaty in order to resume inspecting Russian nuclear bases. There could hardly be a more important national security issue. Ronald Reagan’s former chief arms control negotiator said last month that Iran and North Korea were the “only two governments in the world that wouldn’t like to see this treaty ratified.”

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