Senate Dems Defeat GOP Attempt to Filibuster $1.1T Spending Bill

WASHINGTON - The Democratic-controlled Senate on Saturday turned back a Republican effort to block a final vote on a huge end-of-year spending bill that rewards most federal agencies with generous budget boosts.

The $1.1 trillion measure combines much of the year's unfinished budget work -- only a $626 billion Pentagon spending measure would remain -- into a 1,000-plus-page spending bill that would give the Education Department, the State Department, the Department of Health and Human Services and others increases far exceeding inflation.

The 60-34 vote largely along party lines met the minimum threshold to end the Republican filibuster, a legislative maneuver to delay a final vote on a bill. A final vote on the spending package was set for Sunday afternoon to send the measure to President Barack Obama to sign.

Independent Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, an Orthodox Jew who walks miles (kilometers) to the Capitol when voting on the Sabbath, wore a black wool overcoat and brilliant orange scarf -- as well as a wide grin -- as he provided the crucial 60th vote an hour after the tally started.

The measure combines $447 billion in operating budgets with about $650 billion in mandatory payments for federal benefit programs such as Medicare and Medicaid, which provide health coverage for the elderly, disabled and poor. It wraps together six individual spending bills and also contains more than 5,000 home-state projects sought by lawmakers in both parties.

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The measure provides spending increases averaging about 10 percent to programs under immediate control of Congress, blending increases for veterans' programs, the NASA space agency and the FBI with a pay raise for federal workers and help for car dealers.

It bundles six of the 12 annual spending bills, capping a dysfunctional appropriations process in which House leaders blocked Republicans from debating key issues while Republican lawmakers dragged out debates.

Just the $626 billion defense bill would remain. That's being held back to serve as a vehicle to advance must-pass legislation such as a plan to allow the government's debt to swell by nearly $2 trillion. The government's total debt has nearly doubled in the past seven years and is expected to exceed the current ceiling of $12.1 trillion before Jan. 1.

Saturday's bill would offer an improved binding arbitration process to challenge the decision by General Motors and Chrysler to close more than 2,000 dealerships, which often anchor fading small town business districts. It also would renew for two more years a federal loan guarantee program for steel companies.

The bill also caps a heated debate over Obama's order to close the military-run prison for terrorist suspects at the U.S. Navy base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. It would permit detainees held there to be transferred to the United States to stand trial but not to be released.

The bill would void a long-standing ban on the funding of abortion by the District of Columbia government and overturns a ban on federal money for needle exchange programs in the nation's capital. It also would phase out a D.C. school voucher program favored by Republicans and opens the door for the city to permit medical marijuana.

It would also lift a nationwide ban on the use of federal funds for needle-exchange programs. These AIDS-prevention programs allow addicts to exchange needles used for injecting drugs to cut down the risk of spreading the HIV virus by sharing needles.

Federal workers would receive pay increases averaging 2 percent, with people in areas with higher living costs receiving slightly higher increases.