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US Congress passes funding bill to reopen government after hours-long shutdown
[WASHINGTON] The US Congress passed a crucial federal spending bill Friday after hours of delay, sending the measure for President Donald Trump's signature to end the nation's second government shutdown in three weeks.
The House voted 240 to 186 in support of a bipartisan package that extends funding until March 23, and which will reopen government hours after a conservative senator forced Congress to miss a midnight deadline, sparking the shutdown.
Mr Trump supports the measure and is expected to sign it into law on Friday, ending a serious and embarrassing drama on Capitol Hill over federal spending.
House Speaker Paul Ryan, the top Republican in Congress, acknowledged the perversity of the "entirely needless" shutdown, which may enter the history books as just a blip but speaks volumes about the political gridlock that defines Washington.
"A fifth CR, while one party controls all levels of government, shows the Republicans' inability to govern," said House Democrat Nita Lowey, referring to continuing resolutions that keep the government funded at the same level as the previous year.
Hours earlier in the pre-dawn darkness, the funding bill passed the Senate, but not before Senator Rand Paul, a conservative in Mr Trump's own Republican Party, blocked a vote on the deal because he argued it was too costly.
The bill, which includes a far-reaching agreement that increases spending limits for the next two years and raises the federal debt ceiling until March 2019, would break the cycle of government funding crises in time for what is set to be a bruising campaign for November's mid-term elections.
The rebellion that simmered among Republicans and Democrats over the budget agreement boiled over when a determined Mr Paul brought the Senate's work to a halt.
The Kentucky Republican took the floor to blast the increase in federal spending limits, and in particular the fiscal irresponsibility of his own party.
"I can't in all good honesty and all good faith just look the other way because my party is now complicit in the deficits," Mr Paul said.
"If you're against president (Barack) Obama's deficits, but you're for the Republican deficits, isn't that the very definition of hypocrisy?" he boomed, adding that he wants his fellow lawmakers "to feel uncomfortable" over the impasse.
Moving legislation swiftly through the upper chamber of Congress requires consent by all 100 members, but Mr Paul objected.
Top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer warned that the delay put lawmakers "in risky territory," and a number of fellow Republicans including Senator John Cornyn confronted Mr Paul in the chamber about his strategy.
But Mr Paul refused to yield and allow an early vote, forcing a shutdown while highlighting his policy priorities about excessive government spending.
The bill's fate in the House had been far from certain. Several fiscal conservatives in the lower chamber joined with Mr Paul in balking at adding billions of dollars to the national debt two months after passing a US$1.5 trillion tax cut package.
And liberal stalwarts including top House Democrat Nancy Pelosi were also in revolt because the deal does nothing to protect immigrants known as "Dreamers", who were brought to the US illegally as children, from deportation.
"Nobody wants a shutdown," Ms Pelosi told the House moments before the vote.
She said she wanted an assurance from Mr Ryan that he would take up the issue of immigration in the coming weeks.
"Give us a chance to allay the fear that is in the hearts of these Dreamers and their families, and remove the tears from the Statue of Liberty observing what is happening here," she said.
Ultimately, enough members from both parties joined forces to get the temporary spending bill across the finish line.
It incorporates the major budget deal reached between Senate leaders on both sides of the political aisle.
That agreement includes a US$300 billion increase to both military and non-military spending limits for this year and 2019, and raises the debt until March 1 next year.
It also provides a massive US$90 billion disaster relief package and funding to address the nationwide opioid abuse crisis.
Democrats have sought to link the federal funding debate to a permanent solution for hundreds of thousands of Dreamers, who were shielded from deportation under the Obama-era program called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (Daca).
But Mr Trump ended the program last September, setting March 5 as a deadline for resolving the issue.
The White House's current proposal - one that would put 1.8 million immigrants on a path to citizenship, but also boost border security, and dramatically curtail legal immigration - has been panned by Democrats.
Several bipartisan efforts have stalled, but on Friday Mr Ryan offered his "sincere commitment" to address immigration with legislation on the House floor.