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US House Passes Massive Spending Bill to Avert Government Shutdown

U.S. House Minority Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi (R) speaks as House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (L) listens during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, December 16, 2011.
U.S. House Minority Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi (R) speaks as House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (L) listens during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, December 16, 2011.
Cindy Saine

The U.S. House of Representatives has passed a massive $1 trillion dollar spending bill to fund the federal government until next October, averting a partial government shutdown just hours before current funding was set to expire.  The U.S. Senate is also expected to pass the spending legislation Saturday, and Senate leaders from both major parties have assured Americans there will be no government shutdown.

After a roller-coaster week of tension and partisan bickering between Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill, the House of Representatives passed a sweeping funding bill with solid bipartisan support - 296 lawmakers voted for it and 121 voted against it.  Democratic Minority Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland appealed to lawmakers to vote for the bill.

“And I therefore urge all my colleagues to support this bill," said Hoyer. "Yes, it will keep government open, which is essential.  But it will also do the most fundamental job that this Congress has to do every year, and that is to fund appropriately the priorities that this Congress puts before the country.”

The Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives, John Boehner, said that both sides had worked together.

“This will mark for the second year in a row that we will spend less money on the operation of our government - two consecutive years that we can cut spending," said Boehner. "It also takes steps in this bill to stop some of the excessive regulations that are harming our economy. And for the first time in modern history, there are no earmarks [legislation that requires funding on specific projects] in this bill.”

In the Democratic-controlled Senate, Republican Minority leader Mitch McConnell offered assurances that a government shutdown would be averted.

“I think everybody should be reassured that’s not going to happen, the conference report has been signed and we’re moving toward completing the basic work of government through next September 30th very shortly," said McConnell.

Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said that the Obama administration would extend the current government funding deadline for 24 hours if one chamber of Congress passes a spending bill and it is presumed that the other chamber is also going to pass it.

A shutdown would have forced government agencies to halt non-essential operations, and put tens of thousands federal employees on unpaid furlough.  This is the fourth time this year that Congress has come within hours of either a potential government shutdown or a potential default on its debts.

The spending bill will fund key domestic government agencies and the war in Afghanistan.  It imposes restrictions on U.S. foreign aid to Egypt, Pakistan and the Palestinian authority, but avoids deep cuts in foreign assistance that some Republicans had wanted.

On Saturday, Senate leaders are also expected to vote on extending the payroll tax cuts for American workers. They reached an agreement on a measure late Friday. However, the extension is only for two months, creating yet more economic uncertainty among Americans.  President Barack Obama had pushed for a one-year payroll tax cut extension.

The House of Representatives could take up the payroll tax issue Monday.

President Obama pressed Congress to extend the cuts, saying that otherwise, 160 million Americans would face a tax increase next year at a time when they can least afford it.

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