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Government Spending Drama Plays Out in Congress

From left, Sens. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., Bob Corker, R-Tenn., James Risch, R-Idaho, John McCain, R-Ariz., and Orrin G. Hatch, R-Utah, rush to the Senate floor for a procedural vote, ahead of a midnight deadline to keep the government running, Dec. 11, 2014.

Hours before current funding was to run out Thursday, a massive $1.1 trillion spending bill to fund the U.S. government stalled in the House of Representatives.

Progressive Democrats and conservative Republicans were opposing the spending bill for different reasons, while President Barack Obama and Republican House Speaker John Boehner were calling for the House to pass the bill and keep the government running. The Senate also has to approve the spending bill.

Boehner began the day with confidence, saying he expected the bill to pass in the House with bipartisan support. Because House members were planning to leave Washington on Thursday for their long holiday recess, Boehner did add this warning:

“Listen, if we don’t get finished today, we are going to be here until Christmas!”

Signs of trouble surfaced when a procedural bill to move the big spending package forward passed by just one vote.

The bill would fund most of the federal government until September 30, 2015, but would fund the Department of Homeland Security only until February.

Conservative Republicans opposed the bill because it would not block Obama’s executive action on immigration. Progressive Democrats were outraged over provisions, added at the last minute, that would relax federal regulations on big banks and allow larger campaign donations.

“If you think the American public is going to stand for a bailout of the biggest banks in America one more time, you are wrong," said Democratic Representative Maxine Waters of California. "This bill is going nowhere, because we have enough people, I believe, that are going to stand up and fight.”

In an unusual move, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi criticized Obama for urging Democrats to support the measure.

“This is a ransom. This is blackmail," the California Democrat said. "You don’t get a bill unless Wall Street gets its taxpayer coverage.”

Pelosi and other Democrats argued that the provision would again make taxpayers responsible for bailing out big banks if they get into trouble because of risky trading. After the major financial collapse of 2008, Congress passed legislation to regulate risky trading by banks.

Republicans insisted the spending bill was a compromise to avert a possible shutdown, and argued that no one got everything they wanted.

The spending bill included $5.4 billion to combat the Ebola outbreak in Africa and at home, short of the $6.2 billion Obama had requested. It also included $73 billion to combat terrorism overseas, including $3.4 billion for the air campaign against Islamic State militants, and $500 million in aid to vetted Syrian rebels.

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