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Congress approves stopgap spending for security agency

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The US House of Representatives gave final approval on Friday to a one-week stopgap spending bill for the domestic security agency, averting a partial shutdown with just hours to spare before a midnight deadline.

[WASHINGTON] The US House of Representatives gave final approval on Friday to a one-week stopgap spending bill for the domestic security agency, averting a partial shutdown with just hours to spare before a midnight deadline.

After a chaotic day that featured an embarrassing rebuke to Republican House Speaker John Boehner from angry conservatives, the House voted 357-60 to keep the lights on at the Department of Homeland Security for at least one more week.

The Senate had already passed the one-week extension a few hours earlier. President Barack Obama has signed the bill.

The dizzying twists and turns in the days-long political battle raised fresh questions about Mr Boehner's ability to manage his caucus of restive conservatives and the prospects for legislative achievement in the new, Republican-run Congress.

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Earlier on Friday, the House rejected a three-week funding extension for the agency when conservatives rebelled because the bill did not block Obama's executive orders on immigration. On a second try late in the evening, House Democrats provided the votes to pass a one-week extension.

Democrats said they were optimistic a bill with nearly US$40 billion in department funding for the full fiscal year, already passed by the Senate, would advance in the House next week.

In urging her fellow House Democrats to support the one-week extension, House minority leader Nancy Pelosi said in a letter to members: "Your vote tonight will assure that we will vote for full funding next week." The extension will give both chambers of Congress more time to work out their differences on funding for the super-agency that spearheads domestic counterterrorism efforts.

Mr Boehner could risk another round of challenges from conservatives if he puts up for a House vote the Senate's"clean" funding bill without the immigration restrictions.

The political battle was triggered by House Republican efforts to use the Homeland Security spending bill to block funding for Mr Obama's executive orders that lifted the threat of deportation for millions of undocumented residents.

If Homeland Security's funding had not been extended by midnight, spending authority would have been cut off for the agency that secures US borders, airports and coastal waters. The agency would have been forced to furlough about 30,000 employees, or about 15 per cent of its workforce.

Nearly 200,000 workers, including airport and border security agents and Coast Guard personnel would have stayed on the job but would not have been paid until new funding was approved.

Created after the Sept 11, 2001, attacks, the department encompasses the Coast Guard, the Secret Service, the Transportation Security Administration and immigration, customs and emergency management authorities.

The agency had begun tentative preparations for a shutdown before getting the late-night reprieve from the House. Mr Obama had convened a Friday night meeting at the White House with security and budget officials to discuss the ramifications of a shutdown.

Many conservative Republicans had demanded that any spending bill include provisions to restrict funding for Mr Obama's immigration orders.

Representative John Fleming of Louisiana, a Tea Party favorite who voted against the stopgap bill, criticized Mr Boehner for not pushing harder to kill Mr Obama's executive order. Asked if House leadership should change, he said: "Obviously, we're not getting good results."

REUTERS

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