March 1, 2011 / 8:21 PM / in 7 years

UPDATE 2-US House passes bill to avert gov't shutdown

*Democrats say cuts jeopardize economic recovery

*Further extension will probably be needed

*Compromise possible on cutting overlapping programs (New throughout with House passage, detail)

By Andy Sullivan and Kim Dixon

WASHINGTON, March 1 (Reuters) - The U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday voted to extend government funding for two more weeks, a move that would avert a federal shutdown but do nothing to resolve a bitter debate over the federal budget.

Democrats who control the Senate said they would pass the measure before Friday, when government funding is due to expire. That would give lawmakers until March 18 to agree on funding levels for the fiscal year that ends on Sept. 30.

Republicans have made spending cuts their top priority after winning control of the House in November on a promise to scale back government and trim a massive budget deficit.

“All of us are working to cut spending and to get the federal government out of our pockets, off our backs, and out of our lives,” said Republican Representative John Culberson.

Democrats say the $61 billion in cuts that House Republicans want this fiscal year would endanger the economic recovery and throw hundreds of thousands of people out of work at a time when the unemployment rate stands at 9 percent.

Two weeks will not be enough time to hammer out the stark differences between the two parties, many Democrats say. That would require another short-term extension.

“I‘m afraid we’re going to be back here doing this again,” said Democratic Representative Norm Dicks.

Newly elected Republican conservatives, who have led the push for deep spending cuts, may be reluctant to go along with further temporary extensions.

Other fights loom even if lawmakers agree on spending for this year. They must begin work soon on a budget for the next fiscal year, which starts Oct. 1, and will also have to hold a vote in the coming months on increasing the government’s borrowing authority.


One possible area of compromise emerged when congressional investigators released a report detailing hundreds of overlapping government programs. The report by the Government Accountability Office found 82 separate programs dedicated to improving teacher quality and 56 programs devoted to increasing financial literacy.

Lawmakers from both parties said the report could help find ways to cut spending while not compromising the government’s effectiveness.

Beyond the yearly budget cycle, many experts warn that Congress will have to tackle the growth of Medicare and other popular benefit programs that are projected to eat up a growing share of the $3.7 trillion annual federal budget in the years to come.

Democratic Senator Kent Conrad, who has led efforts for comprehensive budget reform, said the current spending fight was missing the big picture.

“If ever there was an example of the disconnect of Washington, DC from the reality of what we confront as a nation, it’s all this time and energy being spent on $4 billion when what we’ve got to do is deal with a package in the range of $4 trillion,” Conrad said.

The stopgap funding measure, which passed the House by a vote of 335 to 91, would cut $4 billion in education and transportation programs that President Barack Obama also supports eliminating.

It also would eliminate the pet projects known as “earmarks” that Congress has renounced amid concerns about wasteful spending.

The Senate will pass the measure by Thursday, Democratic Leader Harry Reid said.

Additional reporting by Richard Cowan and Thomas Ferraro; Editing by Cynthia Osterman

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.
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