The budget deal Congress approved late Wednesday to reopen the government and raise the debt ceiling provides $51 million in additional funding to the judiciary and to federal defenders.
Federal courts officials and members of the Senate Judiciary Committee greeted the increase as good news, although it is small when compared to $350 million in budget cuts earlier this year as part of sequestration.
In the bill, $1.012 billion would go to defender services, marking a $26 million annual increase over Fiscal Year 2013 for attorneys who represent indigent defendants, said Charles Hall, a spokesman for the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts.
The extra funding would primarily go to pay the backlog of attorney fees under the Criminal Justice Act, which funds court-appointed private counsel. Payments were suspended in mid-September, when funding ran out two weeks before the end of the fiscal year.
The bill also includes $4.8 billion for judiciary salaries and expenses. That amounts to a $25 million annual increase over FY2013, court officials said. The legislation gives judiciary officials the ability to float those funds among accounts to respond to the most urgent budget needs as they arise, Hall said.
Overall, the judiciary budget would rise from about $6.65 billion to about $6.7 billion. The Senate first approved the bill by an 81-18 vote. The House then approved the bill by a 285-144 vote, sending it to the White House.
A spokesman for Senator Christopher Coons (D-Del.), chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Bankruptcy and the Courts, said the funding levels should be sufficient to end the furloughs of federal defenders.
"While this doesn't fully restore the Judiciary and the defenders to the funding levels they need to fully execute their constitutional mission, this increase is a much-needed lifeline,” Coons spokesman Ian Koski said in an email.
Although the resolution includes funding levels for the whole year, the bill only funds the government through January 15. The legislation requires the House and Senate to negotiate on funding levels for the rest of the year.
After the Senate vote, Obama briefly addressed reporters at the White House on Wednesday night, saying that even "with the shutdown behind us" there's much work ahead as congressional committees try to hammer out a "sensible" budget.
"Once this agreement arrives on my desk, I will sign it immediately," Obama said. "We will begin reopening our government immediately."
The president lamented the last-minute nature of the deal, which arrived as the government approached potential default on debt obligations. "Hopefully, next time it won't be in the eleventh hour," Obama said. "We've got to get out of the habit of governing by crisis."