Senate panel boosts spending on IRS, Pell Grants

A Senate panel divided along party lines Thursday to approve legislation funding President Barack Obama's health care and financial services overhaul laws and boosting spending on the IRS and Pell Grants for low-income college students.

The twin Appropriations Committee votes, 16-14, came on two spending bills for the budget year beginning Oct. 1, but there's virtually no chance the measures — or any of the 12 annual agency spending bills — become law by then. They now go to the full Senate for consideration.

Republicans uniformly opposed the measures, chiefly over money for health care and new Wall Street rules.

A $159 billion measure funding education and health programs would boost the maximum Pell Grant by $85 to $5,635. It also contains modest increases for health research and schools for the disadvantaged. Cuts proposed by Obama to energy subsidies for the poor were reversed, as was the administration's attempt to force big cuts to community services grants to local groups that serve the poor.

The Democratic-controlled panel awarded the IRS with a $702 million, 6 percent increase aimed at restoring cuts forced upon the agency over two budget cycles enacted since Republicans took over the House. The Commodity Futures Trading Commission would get a full 50 percent budget increase to cover its much-expanded portfolio of responsibilities since the financial services overhaul was passed two years ago. Likewise, the Securities and Exchange Commission would get a 19 percent increase.

The committee's debate was unusually partisan and spanned almost five hours as Republicans tried and failed to roll back portions of the health law and pro-union steps taken by the National Labor Relations Board. Business groups won over enough Democrats to delay controversial pro-labor rules for seasonal immigrant workers, however.

The Senate has yet to debate any of the 2013 bills setting agency day-to-day operating budgets and the two measures approved by the panel Thursday are unlikely to head to the floor for debate; instead, they're likely to be bundled into a catchall omnibus measure approved after the election — or wholly rewritten in the event Mitt Romney ousts Obama.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, complained that one of the bills contained language to block the Postal Service from dropping Saturday delivery and would prevent the agency from closing 11 mail sorting facilities. Two of the facilities are located in the home state of No. 2 Senate Democrat Dick Durbin of Illinois, who is also the author of the bill at issue.

The six-day-per-week delivery language has long been part of the Postal Service section of the spending bill for three decades, but the Senate earlier this year passed a Postal Service overhaul bill that is less restrictive and opens the door to dropping Saturday delivery. The legislation also attempts to block the Postal Service from closing rural post offices, but the language is nonbinding.