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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 18 June 2018

Congress passes spending bill to end US government shutdown

Senate and House pass measure after delay by Republican senator Rand Paul caused deadline to be missed

The US Capitol building in Washington. The Senate passed on a bipartisan budget deal and sent it to the House on February 19, 2018, but not before missing a deadline that sent the US government into shutdown for the second time this year. Andrew Harrer / Bloomberg
The US Capitol building in Washington. The Senate passed on a bipartisan budget deal and sent it to the House on February 19, 2018, but not before missing a deadline that sent the US government into shutdown for the second time this year. Andrew Harrer / Bloomberg

The US House of Representatives on Friday approved a bill to fund the federal government until March 23 and to increase overall spending limits over two years, hours after a delayed vote in the Senate sent the government into shutdown.

The bill, approved 240-186, has to be approved by President Donald Trump to end the shutdown that started on Thursday at midnight when current government funding expired.

The bill, which includes a far-reaching deal that increases spending limits for the next two years and raises the federal debt ceiling until March 2019, would break the cycle of government funding crises in time for what is set to be a bruising campaign for November's mid-term elections.

Mr Trump is expected to sign the bill into law.

The Senate earlier passed the stopgap spending bill 71 to 28 after an hours-long delay caused by Senator Rand Paul, a conservative in Mr Trump's own Republican Party, forced Congress to miss the midnight deadline.

Moving legislation swiftly through the upper chamber of Congress requires consent by all 100 members, but Mr Paul objected.

The Kentucky Republican took the floor to blast the increase in federal spending limits, and in particular the fiscal irresponsibility of his own party.

"I can't in all good honesty and all good faith just look the other way because my party is now complicit in the deficits," he said.

"If you're against president [Barack] Obama's deficits, but you're for the Republican deficits, isn't that the very definition of hypocrisy?" he asked, adding that he wanted his fellow legislators "to feel uncomfortable" over the impasse.

But top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer warned that the delay put legislators "in risky territory".

A McConnell lieutenant, Senator John Cornyn, also fumed about Mr Paul's gambit.

"I don't know why we are basically burning time here," Mr Cornyn said. "We are in an emergency situation."

But Mr Paul refused to yield and allow an early vote, forcing a shutdown while highlighting his policy priorities about excessive government spending.

"I think this has been a very useful debate," Mr Paul said shortly before the vote.

The bill was later passed in the House despite opposition from both Republican and Democratic members. While fiscal conservatives were way of adding billions of dollars to the national debt two months after passing a $1.5 trillion (Dh5.5 trillion) tax cut package, liberals were in revolt because the deal does nothing to protect young undocumented immigrants from deportation.

The temporary spending bill under consideration incorporates the major budget deal reached between Senate leaders on both sides of the political aisle.

That agreement includes a $300 billion increase to both military and non-military spending limits for this year and 2019, and raises the debt until March 1 next year.

It also provides a massive $90 billion disaster relief package, and funding to address the nationwide opioid abuse crisis.

Democrats have sought to link the federal funding debate to a permanent solution for hundreds of thousands of "Dreamer" immigrants who were brought to the country illegally as children.

Dreamers were shielded from deportation under the Obama-era programme called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (Daca). But Mr Trump ended the programme last September, setting March 5 as a deadline for resolving the issue.

The White House's current proposal - one that would put 1.8 million immigrants on a path to citizenship, but also boost border security, and dramatically curtail legal immigration - has been panned by Democrats.

Several bipartisan efforts have stalled.