House passes stop-gap US government funding bill

WASHINGTON (AFP) - The US House passed a stop-gap funding measure on Wednesday that keeps the government operating through fiscal year 2013, as Congress seeks to seal a needed budget extension before a March 27 deadline.

The Republican-sponsored bill, which passed 267-151, would shift several billion dollars to certain military operations as a way to soften the blow of sweeping automatic spending cuts that came into effect last week.

The measure now heads to the Democratically held Senate, where Majority Leader Harry Reid said lawmakers aim to expand on the House version by allowing other departments such as education to benefit from the same relief intended for the Pentagon.

Mr Reid said he expects a vote on the Senate version by next week, and a bipartisan group of lawmakers would then head into conference and reconcile the bills into one measure that passes both chambers and heads to President Barack Obama's desk.

Congress has not approved a budget in recent years, so the government is operating on "continuing resolutions," usually at six-month intervals, that authorize funding at current levels.

House Speaker John Boehner said the "straightforward and reasonable" bill would avoid a government shutdown.

"Today the House has taken the first step towards assuring the American people that the federal government will stay open, which President Obama agrees should be our shared goal," Mr Boehner said.

"The Senate should pass the House measure without delay so we can continue focusing on helping Americans get back to work and putting the country on a path to a balanced budget." A government shutdown could destabilize the US economy, but that has emerged as a possibility in the midst of relentless partisan bickering over the budget and the mandated spending cuts.

The scenario occurred in late 1995 for 21 days in a memorable battle between president Bill Clinton and House Republicans.

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