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 Shelby and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.
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