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Senate passes budget bill with hundreds of millions for Hawaii

By Star-Advertiser & Associated Press

POSTED:
LAST UPDATED: 09:28 a.m. HST, Jan 17, 2014


Congress has sent President Barack Obama a $1.1 trillion government-wide spending bill that includes hundreds of millions for Hawaii.

The Senate today voted 72-26 for the measure, which cleared the House a little more than 24 hours earlier on a similarly lopsided vote. Obama's signature on the bill was expected in time to prevent any interruption in government funding Saturday at midnight.

U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) said the appropriations bill includes more than $744 million that will go directly to Hawaii priorities, and more than $1 billion for defense programs benefiting Hawaii, with $392 million for military construction in the state. The bill includes:

>> $250 million for Honolulu's rail project in fiscal 2014. 

>> $16.7 million in funding for the East-West Center in Manoa;

>> A total of $89.4 million for Native Hawaiian housing, healthcare and education programs;

>> And about $165 million for Hawaii's highways.

After the bill passed the House Wednesday, Rep. Colleen Hanabusa (D-Hawaii) touted its benefits for the islands. "In defense spending, funding for programs that help veterans, children, working families and Native Hawaiians, as well as infrastructure investments, Hawaii did well," she said. "Given the current economy and the atmosphere in Washington, we are in pretty good shape."

Schatz said today, "I am deeply appreciative that we were able to work with Senate appropriators to protect or increase funding for the East-West Center, transportation, Native Hawaiian health care and education, clean energy, and defense programs."

Hanabusa noted that the bill's support for several military programs in Hawaii reflects the islands importance in the U.S. defense strategy to rebalance its focus on the Asia-Pacific region. 

Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) lauded the bill's passage "as a true compromise" that includes "hard-fought provisions that will benefit Hawaii." 

"I am pleased the Appropriations Committee took into consideration some of Hawaii's key priorities, from expanding preschool to supporting our state's farmers to increasing quality medical care for our veterans," she said.

The huge $1.1 trillion bill funds every agency of government, pairing increases for NASA and Army Corps of Engineers construction projects with cuts to the Internal Revenue Service and foreign aid. It pays for implementation of Obama's health care law; a fight over implementing "Obamacare" sparked tea party Republicans to partially shut the government down for 16 days last October.

Also included is funding for tighter regulations on financial markets, but at levels lower than the president wanted.

The compromise-laden legislation reflects the realities of divided power in Washington and a desire by both Democrats and Republicans for an election-year respite after three years of budget wars that had Congress and the White House lurching from crisis to crisis. Both parties looked upon the measure as a way to ease automatic spending cuts that both the Pentagon and domestic agencies had to begin absorbing last year.

All 53 Democrats, two independents and 17 Republicans voted for the bill. The 26 votes against it were all cast by Republicans.

Obama's budget director, Sylvia Mathews Burwell, called the bill's passage a positive step for the nation and the economy. "It ensures the continuation of critical services the American people depend on," she said in a blog post.

Shortly before the final vote, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, delivered a slashing attack on Senate Democrats, accusing them of ignoring the problems caused by the health care law. "It is abundantly clear that millions of Americans are being harmed right now by this failed law," Cruz said.

Unlike last fall, when he spoke for 21 straight hours and helped force the government shutdown over defunding "Obamacare," this time he clocked in at 17 minutes and simply asked the Senate to unanimously approve an amendment to strip out Obamacare funding. Democrats easily repelled the maneuver.

The 1582-page bill was really 12 bills wrapped into one in negotiations headed by Rep. Harold Rogers, R-Ky., and Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., respective chairmen of the House and Senate Appropriations committees, and their subcommittee lieutenants. They spent weeks hashing out line-by-line details of a broad two-year budget accord passed in December, the first since 2009.

The bill, which cleared the House on a vote of 359-67, increases spending by about $26 billion over fiscal 2013, with most of the increase going to domestic programs. Almost $9 billion in unrequested money for overseas military and diplomatic operations helps ease shortfalls in the Pentagon and foreign aid budgets.






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