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US Lawmakers Pass Two-Week Spending Bill to Avert Government Shutdown

US Capitol
US Capitol

The U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution on Tuesday to fund the federal government for two more weeks to avoid a government shutdown when temporary funding runs out on Friday.  Republican and Democratic lawmakers disagree on how to reduce the federal budget deficit without hurting the economy, but they are trying to work together to avert a government closure.  

The temporary measure intended to keep the federal government running passed by a strong bipartisan vote of 335 to 91.

Republican Representative Harold Rogers of Kentucky called the continuing resolution, or CR, "simple and clean." "So this short-term CR will provide an additional two weeks, while cutting spending, to show our continued resolve to get our nation's fiscal house in order," he said.

Ahead of the vote, House leaders reached an agreement with the Senate to cut $4 billion from this year's federal budget during the next two weeks.  Some of the cuts would come from programs that President Barack Obama has chosen for elimination; the rest would come from ending the practice of earmarks, in which lawmakers fund special projects in their home districts.  

The temporary spending bill would give Congress and the Obama administration more time to reach an agreement on a spending plan for the rest of this fiscal year, which ends on September 30.

The bill now moves to the Democratic-controlled Senate.  Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada said Tuesday that the Senate will likely vote on the House measure within 48 hours, ahead of the Friday deadline.

Senate Minority Leader, Republican Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said Democratic lawmakers have a chance this week to demonstrate that they have gotten the message that the American people want Congress to stop out-of-control government spending.

"This bill should not be controversial.  It has only become controversial because Democratic leaders in Congress have resisted every effort, every effort, to reign in this spending binge.  This bill proposes to cut spending for the next two weeks by $4 billion, and they have fought it tooth and nail [with every available means].  They refuse to admit that Washington has a spending problem," he said.

But the issues of government spending and which programs need to be cut and by how much are controversial.  Democratic Representative Jim McGovern of Massachusetts sharply criticized the seven month temporary budget passed last month by House Republicans that would slash funds for U.S. aid programs to fight global hunger.

"If these short-sighted and quite frankly callous cuts are allowed to stand, we would literally be taking the food out of the mouths of over two million children.  We would be depriving over 18 million people the food that keeps them alive in Haiti, Darfur, Afghanistan, Guatemala, Ethiopia, Kenya and elsewhere," he said.

Democratic House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California made clear she would vote for the two-week spending bill, but that she is unhappy with the deeper cuts Republicans are proposing.

"So let's get through this today, recognizing the challenge that we have, understanding that this bill before us is not a good one.  But it is not final," she said.

Montana Republican Representative Denny Rehberg said he would also support the measure, but said he fears that President Obama and his fellow Democrats in the Senate will not agree to deeper spending cuts that Republicans are demanding.

"The president and the Senate majority hold the balance of power in Washington, D.C.  But they stand against the majority of Americans.  I will support this measure, but I have been pushed to my limit," he said.

Some analysts say that providing only 14 days for the the nation's two major parties to resolve their differences on a measure to fund government for the rest of the fiscal year is not realistic.

But most lawmakers from both sides of the aisle seem eager to avoid a repeat of the political showdown in 1995 between Democratic President Bill Clinton and the Republican-controlled House that resulted in an unpopular shutdown of the federal government.

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