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US Congress passes spending bill to end government shutdown

The government shutdown did not last too long.

Senator Rand Paul walks to the senate chamber in the Capitol.
Senator Rand Paul walks to the senate chamber in the Capitol.
Image: AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana

Updated at 11.10am

THE US CONGRESS has passed a crucial federal spending bill after hours of delay, sending the measure to President Donald Trump to end the nation’s second government shutdown in three weeks.

The House voted 240 to 186 in support of a bipartisan package that extends government funding until 23 March and lifts federal spending limits by nearly $300 billion over the next two years, after the Senate cleared the measure in the middle of the night.

Congress had missed a midnight deadline when a conservative senator refused to allow an early vote on the compromise bill, but now a signature by Trump, who supports the deal, will reopen government offices.

Last night the government stumbled into the shutdown, the second in three weeks, at midnight after a single senator mounted a protest over the budget-busting deal and refused to give in.

Kentucky senator Rand Paul put the brakes on Senate leaders’ plan to drive the agreement quickly through the Senate, repeatedly blocking a vote and provoking colleagues’ frustration.

“I didn’t come up here to be part of somebody’s club. I didn’t come up here to be liked,” he said.

Once Paul’s time was up, the measure, backed by the Senate’s top leaders, sailed through the chamber by a 71-28 vote.

Spending increases

The underlying bill includes huge spending increases sought by Republicans for the Pentagon along with a big boost demanded by Democrats for domestic agencies.

Both sides pressed for $89 billion for disaster relief, extending a host of health care provisions, and extending a slew of smaller tax breaks.

It also would increase the government’s debt cap, preventing a first-ever default on US obligations that looms in just a few weeks.

Such debt limit votes are usually enormous headaches for GOP leaders, but the increase means another vote won’t occur before March 2019.

House leaders hustled to move before federal employees were due back at work, hoping to minimise the disruption.

A shutdown essentially cuts the federal workforce in half, with those dubbed non-essential not allowed to work. Military and essential workers would remain on the job regardless.

The Trump administration earlier signalled it expected the shutdown to be short, calling it a “lapse”.

Order to close

As the clock hit midnight, Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney immediately issued an order to close non-essential government operations.

Mulvaney told federal agencies they should execute their contingency plans and instructed federal employees to report to work this morning to “undertake orderly shutdown activities”.

At the White House earlier, there appeared to be little sense of concern. Aides closed shop early last night, with no comment on the display on the Hill.

The president did not tweet. Vice President Mike Pence, in South Korea for the Winter Olympics, said the administration was “hopeful” the shutdown would not last long.

But frustrations were clear in both sides of the Capitol, where just hours earlier leaders had been optimistic that the budget deal was a sign they had left behind some of their chronic dysfunction.

Senate Democrats sparked a three-day partial government shutdown last month by filibustering a spending bill, seeking relief for “Dreamer” immigrants who’ve lived in the country illegally since they were children.

With AFP

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