Hours from deadline, US Senate to vote to avert shutdown

2018-02-08 22:22
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Washington - The US Senate cleared the way for crunch votes on Thursday on a bipartisan deal to avert a looming government shutdown and raise federal spending limits for the next two years.

Senators are expected to take up and pass the breakthrough bill later on Thursday, then send it to the House of Representatives which will barely have time to debate it before government funding expires at midnight.

The measure's fate in the House of Representatives is uncertain, raising tensions in Washington as Congress scrambles to avoid what would be a second shutdown of the federal government in three weeks.

Earlier on Thursday the Senate voted to block a separate defence spending measure - that also included short term federal funding - largely because it failed to fund domestic programmes along with the military.

The Senate now takes up a revised temporary spending bill that includes the major budget deal struck Wednesday between the Senate's Republican and Democratic leaders.

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

That would break the cycle of showdowns over government funding in time for what is expected to be a bruising campaign season ahead of November's mid-term elections.

The bill also provides a massive $90bn in disaster relief following deadly 2017 storms in Puerto Rico, Florida and Texas, and funding to address the US opioid abuse crisis.

"Not only will it end this series of... fiscal crises that have gridlocked this body, it will also deliver a large investment in our military and robust funding of middle-class programmes," Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said on the Senate floor.

"It's a strong signal that we can break the gridlock that has overwhelmed this body and work together for the good of the country."

The measure is widely expected to pass the Senate, but could face stiff blowback in the House, where fiscal conservatives may balk at adding to the national debt just months after passing a $1.5 trillion tax cut package.

Liberal stalwarts might also revolt, over the sensitive issue of immigration and the fate of millions of undocumented migrants. The immigration issue is not included in the compromise spending measure.

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