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Government closure possible in US as politicians deadlocked over budget

Many agencies have been mandated to begin shutting their doors unless a deal can be reached by midnight on Monday.

Storm clouds hang over Capitol Hill
Storm clouds hang over Capitol Hill
Image: J. Scott Applewhite/AP/Press Association Images

FOLLOWING A WEEK of divisive debate, the US Senate has passed a temporary budget — sending the legislation to the House amid a congressional show-down, just days from a possible government closure.

House Speaker John Boehner has indicated that Republicans will likely alter the legislation and send it back to the Senate — a move that could leave insufficient time for an amended bill to pass both chambers of Congress before a fiscal year-end deadline of midnight Monday.

The Senate voted along strict party lines – 54 Democrats to 44 Republicans – to approve the measure, which funds government operations until 15 November 15 at the annual rate of $986 billion.

However, the legislation in its current form also strips out language that would have defunded President Barack Obama’s health care law.

That provision on so-called “Obamacare” had been the key sticking point — and the Senate’s Democratic leader Harry Reid did away with it after Obama insisted he would not sign a budget bill that defunded his signature domestic legislative achievement.

Several Republicans had supported moving forward to debate and vote on the bill given the precarious timing, but they united in opposition to it once Reid removed the provision defunding Obamacare.

The Democratic majority prevailed, with Senator Barbara Mikulski saying the bill “will lay the groundwork for us to get to a solution on the long-term fiscal needs of our country”.

But it was the short-term that was to be the all-consuming question today and through the weekend — as the House goes into session on Saturday and possibly Sunday to debate and vote on a way out of the looming fiscal crisis.

Shutdown

House Speaker John Boehner has indicated his caucus is unlikely to support passage of the Senate’s stripped down version, suggesting yesterday that Republicans will seek to insert some conservative sweeteners in the legislation and send it back to the Senate.

Such a move would push the US government perilously close to the end of the current fiscal year, 30 September.

If no funding bill is in place by Tuesday, 1 October, many government agencies are mandated to start shutting their doors.

- © AFP, 2013

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