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US Congress passes short-term bill to avert government shutdown
[WASHINGTON ] The Republican-led Congress on Friday passed a bill to avert a government shutdown at midnight and give US lawmakers another week to work out federal spending through the end of the fiscal year, with tricky issues like defence spending still unresolved.
The Senate passed the stopgap measure by voice vote without opposition after the House earlier approved it by a tally of 382-30. The measure now goes to Republican President Donald Trump to sign into law, preventing a shutdown of many parts of the federal government on Saturday, his 100th day in office.
The bill provides federal funding until the end of May 5, allowing lawmakers to hammer out legislation in the coming days to keep the government funded for the rest of the fiscal year that ends Sept 30.
Congress has been tied in knots over US$1 trillion in spending priorities for months. Lawmakers were supposed to have taken care of the current fiscal year appropriations bills by last Oct 1.
Democrats backed the stopgap bill a day after House Republican leaders again put off a vote on major healthcare legislation sought by Mr Trump and opposed by Democrats to dismantle the 2010 Affordable Care Act, dubbed Obamacare, after Republican moderates balked at provisions added to entice hard-line conservatives.
In the bigger spending bill to be negotiated in the coming days, it remained unclear whether Republicans would prevail in their effort to sharply boost defense spending without similar increases for other domestic programs. Mr Trump has proposed a US$30 billion spending hike for the Pentagon for the rest of this fiscal year.
House and Senate negotiators also have been struggling over funding to make a healthcare program for coal miners permanent and whether to plug a gap in Puerto Rico's Medicaid program, the government health insurance program for the poor.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the stopgap bill, avoiding the first government shutdown since 2013, "will carry us through next week so that a bipartisan agreement can be reached". Mr McConnell said he expected the House by the middle of next week to approve and send to the Senate the spending bill for the remaining five months of the fiscal year.
Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said there were still significant differences with Republicans over elements of the looming longer-term spending bill but "we're willing to extend things for a little bit more time" in hope more progress can be made.
The No 2 House Democrat, Steny Hoyer of Maryland, said he would oppose any more temporary spending bills for this year.
During debate in the House, lawmakers expressed frustration at the inability of Congress to take care of the basic functions of government in a timely manner.
"We are seven months into the fiscal year," said Representative Nita Lowey of New York, the top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee.
"Federal departments and agencies have been operating on outdated funding levels and policies for more than half of the year. This is unacceptable and it cannot continue."
Ms Lowey noted that this was the third stopgap spending measure passed since the fiscal year began last October.
"Let's make sure these basics are done for the American people and then let's get about the important business of changing their tax code and making sure they have the best healthcare in the world," added Republican Representative Tom Cole of Oklahoma.
White House spokesman Sean Spicer told reporters aboard Air Force One the White House feels "very good" about getting the funding extension next week through the end of the fiscal year.
Mr Trump earlier bowed to Democratic demands that the spending legislation for the rest of the fiscal year not include money to start building a wall along the US-Mexico border he said is needed to fight illegal immigration and stop drug smugglers.
The Trump administration also agreed to continue funding for a major component of Obamacare despite Republican vows to end the program.