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Time Running Short to Keep US Government Open


Members of Congress depart the Capitol in Washington, after last votes Friday, Sept. 25, 2015.

With a threatened shutdown of the U.S. government looming, Congress has barely a day remaining to approve a stopgap spending bill and get it to President Barack Obama’s desk.

Federal spending authority expires at midnight Wednesday Washington time. Unless both houses of Congress act, a partial shutdown would ensue.

A Senate vote is expected early Wednesday, with House action sometime thereafter.

The bill would fund the government until December 11, keeping federal agencies open in the short term but setting up another fiscal deadline near the end of the year.

At issue has been funding for Planned Parenthood, the nation’s top provider of abortions. Republicans have sought to defund the organization, but Senate Democrats have repeatedly blocked bills to do so. Planned Parenthood offers a range of women's reproductive health services.

With a shutdown looming, Republican congressional leaders agreed to votes on a so-called “clean” spending bill that extends all funding, including for Planned Parenthood.

“The bill before us would keep the government open,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican. “It would allow time for cooler heads to prevail.”

McConnell told reporters Tuesday that he and outgoing House Speaker John Boehner hoped to negotiate a two-year budget deal with the White House to avoid future budget impasses until after the 2016 election. “The president, Speaker Boehner and I spoke about getting started last week, and I expect to get things started very soon,” McConnell said.

House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio leaves a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Sept. 25, 2015.
House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio leaves a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Sept. 25, 2015.

Republicans want to boost military spending but keep most domestic programs under the spending caps. Most Democrats want to end the so-called sequester, or automatic, across-the-board cuts designed to trim the federal deficit.

“Both parties know that sequestration is bad for our country,” said Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat. “There’s no reason to wait until December to start negotiating.”

The House vote on the stopgap spending bill will come at a time of upheaval in the chamber over the surprise resignation announcement of Boehner, who drew the ire of ultraconservative Republicans by promising to work to ensure the U.S. government remains open.