Senate Democrats prepare government funding bill

WASHINGTON (AP) — Senate Democrats are preparing a catchall government funding bill that denies President Barack Obama money

for implementing signature first-term accomplishments like new regulations on Wall Street and his expansion of government

health care subsidies but provides modest additional funding for domestic priorities like health research.

The measure expected to be released Monday is the product of bipartisan negotiations and is the legislative vehicle to fund

the day-to-day operations of government through Sept. 30 — and prevent a government shutdown when current funding runs out

March 27.

Passage in the Senate this week would presage an end to a mostly overlooked battle between House Republicans and Obama and

his Senate Democratic allies over the annual spending bills required to fund federal agency operations.

The bipartisan measure comes as Washington girds for weeks of warfare over the budget for next year and beyond as both House

and Senate Budget Committees this week take up blueprints for the upcoming 2014 budget year.

The first salvo in that battle is coming

from House Republicans poised to release on Tuesday a now-familiar

budget featuring

gestures to block "Obamacare," turn Medicare into a voucher-like

program for future retirees and sharply curb Medicaid and

domestic agency budgets. Such ideas are dead on arrival with Obama

and Democrats controlling the Senate, but will — in concert

with new taxes on the wealthy enacted in January — allow

Republicans to propose a budget that would come to balance within

10 years.

"We think we owe the American people a balanced budget," House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan said on "Fox News Sunday."

Senate Democrats are countering on Wednesday

with a budget plan mixing tax increases, cuts to the Pentagon and

relatively

modest cuts to domestic programs. The measure would not reach

balance, but it would undo automatic budget cuts that started

taking effect this month and largely leaves alone rapidly growing

benefit programs like Medicare.

"We need to make sure that everybody

participates in getting us to a budget that deals with our debt and our

deficit responsibly,"

Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray, D-Wash., said Monday

evening.

The upcoming debate over the long-term

budgetary future promises to be stoutly partisan, even as Obama is

undertaking outreach

to rank-and-file Republicans in hopes of sowing the seeds for a

bipartisan "grand bargain" on the budget this year after two

failed attempts to strike agreement with House Speaker John

Boehner. Obama's budget is already weeks overdue and Press Secretary

Jay Carney deflected questions about it Monday, other than to

promise that it would "for a period of time" bring deficits

below 3 percent of gross domestic product, a measure that many

analysts say is sustainable without damaging the economy.

The wrap-up spending bill for the

half-completed fiscal year released Monday, however, is another matter

entirely. It's a

lowest common denominator approach that gives the Pentagon

much-sought relief for readiness accounts but adds money sought

by Democrats like Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara

Mikulski, D-Md., for domestic programs such as Head Start, health

research, transportation and housing.

The Senate measure would award seven Cabinet

departments — including Defense, Commerce, justice, Agriculture and

Veterans

Affairs — with their line-by-line detailed budgets, but would

leave the rest of the government running on autopilot at current

levels. All domestic agencies except for Veterans Affairs would

then be subject to a 5 percent across-the-board cut while

the Pentagon would bear an 8 percent cut.

Mikulski needs GOP votes to pass the measure

through the Senate, which Democrats control with 55 votes but where 60

votes

are required for virtually every piece of substantive legislation.

Using their leverage, Republicans have denied a White House

request for almost $1 billion to help set up state health-care

exchanges to implement Obamacare as well as smaller requests

for financial regulators to implement the 2010 Dodd-Frank law

overhauling regulation of Wall St. and for the IRS to police

tax returns.

It is hoped that the pre-negotiated Senate

measure could return to the House — which passed a different catchall

spending

bill last week — and pass through that chamber unchanged and be

sent on to Obama well in time to avert a politically disastrous

government shutdown.

House Republicans weighed in strongly and

successfully against a proposal by Mikulski to give the Obama

administration greater

flexibility to transfer funds between accounts to cope with the

across-the-board spending cuts, known as sequestration. By

law, the across-the-board cuts are supposed to be taken in equal

measure from front-line programs like air traffic control,

meat inspection and the Border Patrol and lower-priority items

such as agriculture research and subsidies for airline travel

to rural airports.

Even as many Republicans attack the

administration for choices such as ending White House tours or canceling

early snow removal

from Yellowstone National Park, Republicans on the House

Appropriations Committee in particular fear that giving Obama greater

flexibility would erode Congress' control over the federal purse,

which is enshrined in the Constitution and zealously guarded.

Thirty-eight Senate Republicans voted last month to give Obama significant flexibility to manage the automatic cuts, including

Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Richard Shelby of Alabama, the party's senior member on the Appropriations

Committee.