WASHINGTON — A chastened Congress is putting aside the crisis-driven budget battles of the past three years, embracing a $1.1 trillion spending bill that restores or smooths the sharpest edges of the automatic cuts imposed as a result of its own dysfunction.
The huge election-year legislation preserves the downward trajectory on government spending demanded by Republicans. Yet the bipartisan measure steaming through Congress also preserves President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul and stricter regulation of financial markets — and deflects the most significant attempts by Republicans to rewrite environmental rules and force other changes.
Lawmakers hope the compromise will show disgruntled voters before next fall’s midterm election that Washington — especially its unpopular Congress — can perform its most basic function of responsibly funding the government.
The bravado that prompted tea party Republicans to force a government shutdown in hopes of derailing the Affordable Care Act is gone, replaced by a desire to focus attention on the administration’s troubled rollout of the health care law.
“The average American looking at this, it looks pretty dysfunctional for the last couple of years,” said Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla. “We need to rack up some achievements here — not just for Republicans but for incumbents in general and for the institution.”
There could still be bumps in the road. Congress needs to raise the government’s borrowing cap by the end of February or early March, and it’s unclear how big of a battle that will be.
As for the compromise spending bill, the massive measure funds the operations of virtually every federal agency, making cuts and additions reflecting the trade-offs of divided government. While delivering relief from painful budget cuts and caps known as sequestration, it still imposes a 3 percent cut on agency budgets relative to those approved last year before automatic reductions lopped about $60 billion from them.
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