• US Senate passes huge spending bill, sends it to Obama

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    Washington: Marking a truce after years of fiscal feuding in Washington, Congress passed a $1.1 trillion spending package that effectively ended the threat of an election-year government shutdown.

    The Senate voted 72 to 26 to approve the massive bill, in a show of bipartisanship after the House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly Wednesday for the measure to fund the federal government through September.

    The package now goes to President Barack Obama, who is expected to sign it.

    “We’re a little late, but we got the job done,” said Senator Barbara Mikulski, who as chair of the Appropriations Committee shepherded the bill through the chamber.

    All Senate Democrats supported the spending package and conservative opposition cracked, with 17 Republicans voting in favor.

    In addition to the discretionary $1.012 trillion, the measure includes $92 billion for overseas military operations, mainly the war in Afghanistan, and $6.5 billion for natural disaster relief.

    Passage of the bill “marks a positive step forward for the nation and our economy,” the White House’s Office of Management and Budget director Sylvia Burwell said in a statement.

    Both parties had plenty to tout in the 1,582-page bill.

    Republicans claimed they reined in federal spending for a fourth straight year by freezing new funding for Obama’s health care reforms known as Obamacare, reducing foreign aid and cutting money to the Internal Revenue Service and Transportation Security Administration.

    Democrats saw billions of dollars in additional spending for preschool programs like Head Start, as well as for border security and the FBI.

    Senate Democrat Tom Carper said the vote marked “another small step forward” after the landmark compromise reached by the warring sides last month when they agreed to a two-year budget deal.

    “I’m hopeful that today’s vote signals that manufactured crises, like the harmful October government shutdown that cost our economy $20 billion, are a thing of past.”

    Bickering lawmakers failed to agree on a spending framework last year, plunging Washington into a 16-day government shutdown while politicians haggled over how to fund federal operations and not increase the debt.

    Despite the savings trend, overall federal expenditures are set to rise slightly in 2014 as the deal erases automatic spending cuts that were to kick in on January 1 for the next two years.

    Several Tea Party-backed lawmakers, including Senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, voted no because the measure does not slash enough from the nation’s $17.3 trillion debt.

    “This omnibus spending deal does a great job of letting Washington grow bigger, more in debt and more dysfunctional for another year, but it’s a terrible way to make the American Dream a reality for more Americans,” Rubio said.

    But the wide bipartisan votes in both chambers were a hammer blow against the Tea Party movement that staunchly opposed the bill, and Senate Republicans were able to defuse a threat by Cruz to force a showdown over defunding Obamacare altogether.

    Cruz revived a complaint that lawmakers did not have sufficient time to read the bill that Mikulski made public only late Monday.

    He suggested no member of Congress had read the bill in its entirety, not even himself, but “I don’t need to, to vote against it,” Cruz said.

    With the spending measure in the books, lawmakers head home for a one-week recess. But they will return facing a new sticking point: the need to raise the US debt ceiling.

    “February 7th our borrowing authority runs out again,” Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew warned. “At that point, Congress has to act.”

    Republican House Speaker John Boehner suggested he was not keen on another fiscal battle in such short order.

    “All I know is that we should not default on our debt; we shouldn’t even get close to it,” Boehner said. AFP

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