Shutdown averted for now as Congress extends US funding

Michael Mathes
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US Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid attend a ceremony at the US Capitol, Washington, DC, December 10, 2014

US Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid attend a ceremony at the US Capitol, Washington, DC, December 10, 2014 (AFP Photo/Saul Loeb)

Washington (AFP) - The US Senate gave itself four additional days to pass a $1.1 trillion federal spending bill, easing the threat of a government shutdown that was looming at midnight.

Amid deep divisions between Republicans and Democrats over how to proceed on funding government through September, feuding lawmakers unanimously passed a measure that extends funds to late Wednesday.

The extension was the second passed by Congress in as many days as leaders struggle to finalize the spending bill and bid farewell to the 113th Congress, one of the least productive sessions in modern history.

The funding has already been approved by the House of Representatives. It faces a procedural test vote at 1:00 am (0600 GMT) Sunday, and is then expected to pass the Senate on Monday and head to President Barack Obama's desk for his signature.

The battle over the bill has been a bruising one.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell had expressed hope that a deal would be reached for a final vote Friday on funding nearly all federal operations through the end of fiscal 2015.

But that collapsed when conservative Republicans like Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, furious that the legislation failed to roll back Obama's recent unilateral immigration action to shield millions from deportation, refused to cooperate.

"Regrettably, a small group of Senate Republicans has determined that it is in their political interests to hold this legislation hostage," Reid told the chamber at the start of a rare Saturday session.


- Obama's immigration order -


Cruz, widely accused by Democrats of causing last year's 16-day government shutdown, appeared in no hurry to ease passage of the spending bill Friday, giving a fiery floor speech attacking congressional leaders for their failure to stand up to Obama's immigration order.

"Before the United States Senate is a bill that does nothing, absolutely nothing to stop President Obama's illegal and unconstitutional amnesty," Cruz said.

The political tempest triggered by Cruz and fellow conservative Senator Mike Lee may have backfired for the Republican Party.

It enabled Reid to use a procedural maneuver to allow votes on up to 20 of Obama's nominees, some of them controversial, including the president's pick for surgeon general.

The Senate was grinding through a slog of nomination-related votes Saturday, and Republicans did not shy away from criticizing Cruz's tactics.

"It will have the end result of causing nominees whom I think are not well-qualified to be confirmed, so I don't understand the approach that he is taking, and I think it's very unfortunate and counterproductive," Senate Republican Susan Collins said, according to The New York Times.

"This reminds me very much of the shutdown last year, where the strategy made absolutely no sense and was counterproductive."

The spending bill funds all government agencies through September except the Department of Homeland Security, which is tasked with carrying out Obama's immigration order.

DHS funding would last until February, setting up another immigration-related fight but this time in a Congress under full Republican control.

Otherwise the bill leaves Obama's executive order intact.

It contains $1.014 trillion in discretionary domestic spending, plus $64 billion in military overseas contingency operations in places like Iraq and Afghanistan.

The measure provides $5 billion for operations to counter the Islamic State extremist group, and $5.4 billion in emergency funding was secured to respond to the Ebola crisis -- slightly less than the $6 billion requested by Obama.

Progressive Democrats have expressed outrage about the 1,603-page bill because of two policy riders inserted late in the negotiation process, including one that rolls back key financial regulations on Wall Street banks.