U.S. House passes crucial stopgap government funding bill, avoiding partial shutdown

General view of the U.S. Capitol as the House of Representatives takes up debate of U.S. President Joe Biden's $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief plan in Washington, U.S., March 8, 2021. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

WASHINGTON, Sept 30 (Reuters) - A bill funding the federal government through Dec. 16 passed the U.S. House of Representatives on Friday, avoiding an embarrassing partial shutdown less than six weeks before the midterm elections when control of Congress is at stake.

With government funding for federal agencies due to expire at midnight, House lawmakers sent the legislation on to the White House, where President Joe Biden signed the measure into law.

The bill, which includes an additional $12.3 billion for Ukraine's war effort against the Russian invasion, passed the 100-seat Senate on Thursday with bipartisan support. But it faced opposition in the House from Republicans including party leader Kevin McCarthy, and less than a dozen Republicans joined all Democrats present in approving the bill in a vote of 226 to 200.

Without its passage, government agencies would have been forced to partially shut down on Saturday for lack of funding - a scenario which has become increasingly common in a deeply partisan era of U.S. politics, as both parties fight over budget allocations.

In addition to Ukraine aid and funding for government agencies, the bill authorizes Biden to direct the drawdown of up to $3.7 billion for the transfer to Ukraine of excess weapons from U.S. stocks.

Amid reports of Russian forces threatening the safety of Ukraine's nuclear power plants and Russian President Vladimir Putin hinting he might use nuclear weapons against Ukraine, the legislation would appropriate $35 million "to prepare for and respond to potential nuclear and radiological incidents in Ukraine," according to a bill summary.

The stopgap bill also includes a five-year renewal of Food and Drug Administration user fees being collected from drug and medical device companies to review their products and determine whether they are safe and effective, the bill summary showed.

The law authorizing the collection of fees expires on Friday.

Congress has resorted to this kind of last-minute temporary spending bill in 43 out of the past 46 years due to its failure to approve full-year appropriations in time for the Oct. 1 start of a fiscal year, according to a government study.

The last time Congress allowed funding to lapse was in December 2018, when Democrats balked at paying for then-President Donald Trump's U.S.-Mexico border wall, leading to a record, 35-day impasse and partial government shutdown.

Reporting by Moira Warburton, David Morgan and Richard Cowan in Washington; Editing by Scott Malone, Deepa Babington, Jonathan Oatis and Diane Craft

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