US Congress passes short-term Bill to avert government shutdown

If the measure passes the House, the Senate would be prepared to promptly take up the bill, in the hope of also passing it and sending it to President Donald Trump to be signed into law.
If the measure passes the House, the Senate would be prepared to promptly take up the bill, in the hope of also passing it and sending it to President Donald Trump to be signed into law. PHOTO: AFP/GETTY IMAGES

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - The US Congress on Friday (April 28) passed stopgap legislation to avert a government shutdown at midnight and give lawmakers another week to reach a deal on federal spending through the end of the fiscal year, with contentious issues remaining to be resolved.

The Senate passed the measure by voice vote without opposition after the House earlier approved it by a tally of 382-30. The measure now goes to President Donald Trump to sign into law.

The Bill in the Republican-led Congress provides federal funding until May 5, allowing lawmakers to hammer out legislation over the next few 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 (S$1.4 trillion) in spending priorities for months. Lawmakers were supposed to have taken care of the current fiscal year appropriations bills by last Oct 1.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the stopgap Bill “will carry us through next week so that a bipartisan agreement can be reached.” Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said there were still significant differences with Republicans over elements of the looming longer-term spending Bill.

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 defence spending without similar increases for other domestic programmes. 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 health-care program for coal miners permanent and whether to plug a gap in Puerto Rico’s Medicaid program, the government health insurance programme for the poor.

‘IMPORTANT BUSINESS’

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.

“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 health-care in the world,” said Republican Representative Tom Cole of Oklahoma.

“We are seven months into the fiscal year,” added 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.”

Lowey noted the legislation, known as a continuing resolution, was the third stopgap spending measure during the current fiscal year.

In addition to opposition from Democrats, there are deep divisions among Republicans over exactly how to change the tax code and overhaul the US health-care system.

The action on the spending Bill came a day after House Republican leaders again put on hold a possible vote on major health-care legislation sought by Trump to dismantle the 2010 Affordable Care Act, dubbed Obamacare, after moderates in the party balked at provisions added to entice hard-line conservatives.

The government was last forced to close in October 2013, when Republican Senator Ted Cruz and some of the most conservative House Republicans engineered a 17-day shutdown in an unsuccessful quest to kill former Democratic President Barack Obama’s health-care law.

Trump, a Republican, bowed to Democratic demands that the spending Bill 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 programme.

Without the extension or a longer-term funding Bill, federal agencies would have run out of money by midnight on Friday, likely triggering abrupt layoffs of hundreds of thousands of federal government workers until funding resumes.