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House approves short-term spending bill
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The House of Representatives on Wednesday voted to avert a federal government shutdown by extending temporary funding for another two weeks, giving Democrats time to craft a more lasting solution.
The Senate was expected to take up the measure by Friday, when funding for government operations otherwise would expire.
Though the fiscal year began on October 1, the government has been operating on last year's budget as Congress has failed to pass the 12 bills needed to fund government operations.
The temporary funding has kept national parks open and aircraft carriers afloat, but a wide range of research grants and other new initiatives have been placed on hold.
The House voted 239 to 178 to extend the temporary funding arrangement until December 18. Only two Republicans voted for the measure.
Senate Democrats have been working to wrap all 12 of the spending bills into one comprehensive package that would total about $1.108 trillion, which is $27 billion less than fellow-Democrat President Barack Obama requested. They hope that figure will be low enough to attract enough Republican support to secure passage.
But their efforts could be complicated by rising Republican opposition to the pet spending projects known as earmarks that have been tucked into the spending bills.
As a backup plan, House Democrats are readying a temporary funding bill that would cover the rest of the fiscal year, through September 30, 2011. That bill would contain changes to allow government agencies to move ahead with new initiatives, like research grants, that have been stalled so far.
House Democrats are scheduled to get a list of such proposed changes from the Obama administration later in the day, said Democratic Representative David Obey, who chairs the Appropriations Committee.
Republicans are pushing for much deeper cuts in federal spending, and could get their chance to impose them when they take control of the House in January.
"Voters have made it abundantly clear that they want Congress to cut spending starting today," said Republican Representative Jerry Lewis, a contender to head the Appropriations Committee next year.
Lewis said he would push a package of immediate spending reductions in January if Democrats managed to pass a spending bill that covers the rest of the fiscal year. Better yet would be to extend temporary funding until February so Republicans could enact their spending cuts more easily, he said.
Obey said Republicans should focus on the fiscal year to come.
"I would think that it is worth trying to finish action on our budget this year so that our friends, when they assume majority status in January, can start with a clean slate and be looking forward rather than backward," Obey said.
(Reporting by Andy Sullivan; Editing by Vicki Allen)
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