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US Congress Decides 2011 Federal Budget

House Speaker John Boehner (file photo)

House Speaker John Boehner (file photo)

The U.S. House of Representatives has passed a spending bill to fund the federal government through September. The last-minute agreement was reached nearly a week ago after intense negotiations between the White House and Congress, slashing $38.5 billion in spending and averting a government shutdown. The House approved the measure on Thursday and the Senate is expected to vote on the bill within a few hours.

House lawmakers passed the 2011 funding bill by a vote of 260 to 167, after debate in which Republicans accused Democrats of runaway government spending, and Democrats accused Republicans of slashing funding for much-needed programs.

House Speaker John Boehner said the agreement is not perfect, but he called it a good start in the long process of reducing federal spending.

"What this bill does, it stops the bleeding," said Boehner. "It halts the spending binge and starts us moving back in the right direction. Does it cut enough? No. Do I wish it cut more? Absolutely. And do we need to cut more? Absolutely."

Boehner said Republicans have changed the debate and tone in Washington during their first 100 days as the majority party in the House by focusing on cutting federal spending, including in the 2011 budget.

"We are cutting $38.5 billion of money that has already been authorized and appropriated," he said. "And anybody that does not believe this money would not be spent if we do not act is kidding themselves because this is real money and these are real cuts."

Boehner said the cuts are the biggest package of non-defense spending reductions in history. He said the Senate Budget Committee expects that during the next decade, it will save $315 billion.

The bill is a compromise. Republicans had sought broader cuts, while Democrats had wanted fewer spending reductions.

Democrats had harsh words for Republicans. House Minority Leader, Democrat Nancy Pelosi accused Republicans of not creating a single job or laying out a jobs agenda, saying that Republican policies will hurt ordinary Americans and women, and benefit oil companies and the rich.

Pelosi said she and her Democratic Party colleagues in the House were kept out of the negotiations on the budget bill and that lawmakers have an obligation to the American people to ensure the government remains open.

"It was evident that the Republicans in the House, the Democrats in the Senate were the two majorities," said Pelosi. "They were the ones who had the votes, so they had the strength to negotiate and the president presided over that. I feel no ownership of that or any responsibility to it, except that we do not want to shut down government."

The debate on federal spending is dominating Washington. President Barack Obama on Wednesday outlined his strategy to cut $4 trillion from the nation's deficit during the next 12 years. He called for shared sacrifice and said the country cannot afford to maintain tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans that were enacted by his predecessor, George W. Bush.

On Friday, House lawmakers are expected to vote on a Republican-sponsored budget plan for 2012 that the majority party says makes smart cuts that will stimulate the economy, while saving nearly bankrupt social programs.

But Democrats are opposed to the measure, saying the plan from House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan cuts aid programs for senior citizens and low-income Americans.