US Congress passes budget deal, ending brief shutdown

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Washington, Feb 9 (IANS) The US Congress moved to end a fresh five-hour government shutdown early Friday after the House voted to support a massive bipartisan budget deal that stands to add hundreds of billions of dollars in federal spending on the military, domestic programmes and disaster relief.

The final approval came hours after a one-man blockade by Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky delayed the votes, forcing a brief government shutdown for a second time in less than a month. His move was in opposition to an estimated $320 billion addition to the federal budget deficit, the Washington Post reported.

Senator Paul used Senate rules to delay a vote in the chamber until early Friday morning, angering his colleagues in the process.

The bill passed in a 240-186 vote in the House early morning despite opposition from most Democrats, who had sought a firmer commitment from Speaker Paul Ryan that he will bring immigration legislation to the floor for a vote that would protect immigrants who came to the US as children from deportation.

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Hours before the House vote, the Senate cleared the legislation on a vote of 71 to 28, with wide bipartisan support.

With the House approval and President Donald Trump’s expected signature, the government will reopen before many Americans knew it had closed, with a deal that includes about $300 billion in additional funds over two years for military and non-military programmes.

It also includes almost $90 billion in disaster relief in response to last year’s hurricanes and wildfires, and a higher statutory debt ceiling.

The debt ceiling will be raised by the appropriate amount until March 2019.

Exact spending would be left to the appropriations committees but included in the funding is $10 billion to invest in infrastructure, $2.9 billion for child care and $3 billion to combat opioid and substance abuse, CNN reported.

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Speaker Ryan said the bill was “a great victory for our men and women in uniform” as the military would get more resources.

He said: “Ultimately, neither side got everything it wanted in this agreement, but we reached a bipartisan compromise that puts the safety and wellbeing of the American people first.”

While the legislation sets out broad budget numbers for the next two fiscal years, lawmakers face yet another deadline on March 23 — giving congressional appropriators time to write a detailed bill doling out funding to government agencies.

Politicians from both opposing parties criticised Senator Paul for slowing the bill up and provoking the shutdown.

Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill said “it looked like he was clueless” while Republican Senator John Thune called the shutdown “a colossal waste of time”.

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Last month, the government shut down for three days in a dispute over undocumented immigrants brought to the country as kids, reopening when Senate Democrats accepted assurances from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell that he would hold a floor debate on immigration this month.

–IANS

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