US House passes 2016 spending Bill averting govt shutdown

Members of Congress and aides exit the US House of Representatives.
Members of Congress and aides exit the US House of Representatives.PHOTO: EPA

WASHINGTON (AFP) - The US House of Representatives Friday approved a US$1.1 trillion (S$1.5 trillion) spending package for 2016 which if passed by the Senate as expected would avert a government shutdown before year-end holidays.

The sprawling bipartisan compromise, which also tightens visa requirements, proposes reforms to the International Monetary Fund and lifts a longstanding ban on US crude oil exports, passed easily by a vote of 316 to 113.

The Senate immediately took up the measure and was to vote on it right away, and the White House has said President Barack Obama would sign the measure into law.

Architects of the deal and congressional leaders worked overtime this week cajoling rank-and-file members on both sides into backing the US$1.149 trillion, 2,009-page legislation.

Known as an "omnibus," the fiscal year 2016 spending Bill became a year-end catch-all that includes priorities of both parties, and leaves out some pet projects that made it difficult for some lawmakers to sign on.

But ultimately, "the House came together to ensure our government is open and working for the American people," House Speaker Paul Ryan said after the vote.

The Bill increases defence spending, which Republicans said was critical given the level of unrest in the Middle East and the increased spectre of terrorism.

"The legislation strengthens our military and protects Americans from terrorist threats, while limiting the overreach of intrusive government bureaucracies like the Internal Revenue Service and the Environmental Protection Agency," Ryan said.

The omnibus lifts the 40-year-old ban on US crude oil exports, for years a Republican priority, while extending solar and wind energy tax credits that Democrats say will create renewable energy jobs and reduce carbon emissions.

The bill reforms the US visa waiver programme in the wake of deadly attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, California.

It does not, however, include a controversial measure temporarily halting the programme allowing Syrian and Iraqi refugees to enter the United States.

The omnibus retained the decades-long ban on federal funding for research into gun violence, a major point of contention for Democrats. It also failed to provide assistance for debt-crippled Puerto Rico, which left top House Democrat Nancy Pelosi fuming although she ultimately backed the deal.

And it includes a two-year moratorium on the so-called medical device tax, a provision of President Barack Obama's health care law that angered Republicans and Democrats alike.

The Senate is also expected on Friday to pass a sweeping package extending tax breaks and credits worth US$629 billion aimed at providing greater certainty for businesses and millions of Americans.

The House approved the measure on Thursday.

The Bill includes 56 extensions, among them nearly two dozen that would be made permanent in part to help families still struggling in the aftermath of the financial crisis.

Several Democrats, including party leaders in the House, opposed the Bill, warning it is not paid for and will only deepen US debt.

Their opposition puts them at odds with the White House, which on Wednesday announced its support for the tax Bill as well as the spending Bill.