WASHINGTON (AP) — Senate Democrats on Thursday rejected a bid by Republicans to cut back spending on transportation and housing programs to keep them in line with automatic spending cuts required under the rules set by a budget deal two years ago.
The 56-42 vote killed a move by conservative Pat Toomey, R-Pa., to cut the price tag for the huge spending bill by $9 billion to bring it in line with an austere House measure that cuts community development grants, housing subsidies and funding for Amtrak.
The huge measure combines $54 billion in so-called discretionary spending that's directly controlled by lawmakers and releases an equal amount from trust funds for highway and other infrastructure projects. It's the first appropriations bill to come to the Senate floor as a stand-alone measure in two years.
Such bills fund the day-to-day operations of government but Republicans and Democrats are in stark disagreement over how much money to devote to Cabinet budgets. Republicans are supporting a $967 billion cap for such budgets required under automatic spending cuts called for under the 2011 budget deal — which set up a process called sequestration to enforce budget cuts if a deficit "supercommittee" failed to produce a follow-up deal. Democrats are pressing a budget that's more than $90 billion higher.
Toomey said the pending bill "puts us on a direct path to bust the caps, to break the law, to spend more than the statutory limits that we put in place just two years ago."
Just three Republicans broke with their party to support the bill as drafted but it's unclear whether it's a test vote that could signal problems next week. It typically takes 60 votes to advance legislation in the Senate and Democrats control 54.
"The transportation and housing bill could not exist at the worse-than-sequestration levels being pushed in the House," said the measure's Democratic author, Patty Murray of Washington, citing cuts to community development grants, rural air subsidies and housing for the poor.
Separately, Democrats on the Appropriations panel advanced a bill to protect the Internal Revenue Service from huge budget cuts sought by House Republicans.
Besides safeguarding the IRS against cuts, they defended the ability of the IRS to enforce President Barack Obama's health care law. The measure was adopted on a party-line vote.
The $44 billion IRS funding bill is bigger than the House version. The House bill would slash the IRS budget next year by $3 billion.