Senate clears FY2012 spending bill, sends to President

Saturday - 12/17/2011, 2:21pm EST

By ANDREW TAYLOR
Associated Press

(Correction: An earlier version of this story said the President had signed the $1T "megabus" appropriations bill over the weekend. In fact, the President hasn't signed the bill yet, although he is expected to this week.)

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Senate passed over the weekend a $1 trillion-plus catchall budget bill that wraps together the day-to-day budgets for 10 Cabinet departments and military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

(See an agency-by-agency breakdown of spending.)

Senate passage of the bill clears the way for the President to sign the measure, which he is expected to do this week.

Republicans yielded on policy affecting communist Cuba and Democrats gave way on new energy standards for light bulbs to seal an agreement Thursday evening on the year-end spending package.

Under pressure from White House veto threats, House Republicans agreed to drop restrictions on people who visit and send money to relatives in Cuba, while Democrats conceded defeat on a GOP demand to delay energy efficiency standards that critics argued could effectively ban inexpensive incandescent light bulbs. In late stage talks, Democrats also agreed to ban the District of Columbia's government from funding abortions.

The measure awards a slight increase to the Pentagon and veterans' programs while trimming most other domestic agencies. It drops most policy provisions sought by GOP conservatives.

Thursday's legislation implements the details of cost caps set under the August debt and budget accord between Republicans and President Barack Obama and adds to earlier agency savings enacted in April. It pays for programs ranging from border security to flood control to combating AIDS and famine in Africa.

The bill chips away at the Pentagon budget, foreign aid and environmental spending but boosts funding for veterans programs. The Securities and Exchange Commission, responsible for enforcing new regulations under last year's financial overhaul, won a 10 percent budget increase, even as the tax-collecting IRS absorbs more than a 3 percent cut to its budget.

Popular education initiatives for special-needs children and disadvantaged schools were basically frozen and Obama's cherished "Race to the Top" initiative, which provides grants to better-performing schools, would absorb more than a 20 percent cut. The maximum Pell grant for low-income college students would remain at $5,550, but only after major cost-cutting moves that would limit the number of semesters the grants may be received and make income eligibility standards more strict.

Environmentalists scored clear wins in stopping virtually every significant GOP initiative to roll back Environmental Protection Agency rules. Most importantly, industry forces seeking to block new greenhouse gas and clean air rules, as well as a new clean water regulation opposed by mountaintop removal mining interests, were denied. But Republicans succeeded in blocking new energy efficiency standards for light bulbs and won delays to a new Labor Department rule requiring a reduction of coal dust responsible for black lung disease.

All told, $11.2 billion in emergency foreign aid funding would be provided for counterterrorism, humanitarian aid and training of Iraqi security forces, among other anti-terror activities.

The measure generally consists of relatively small adjustments to thousands of individual programs. Agencies like the Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement will get a boost within the Homeland Security Department, while GOP defense hawks won additional funding to modernize the U.S. nuclear weapons arsenal. The troubled, over-budget, next-generation F-35 fighter plane program would be largely protected.

Social conservatives won a ban on government-funded abortions in Washington, D.C., and restored a longstanding ban on funding for needle exchange programs used to prevent the spread of HIV. But efforts to take away federal funding for Planned Parenthood failed, as expected.

(Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)