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House passes US$1.1 trillion bill to fund government

WASHINGTON — A US$1.1 trillion spending bill for operating the government until just before next fall's election steamed through the battle-weary House on Wednesday over tepid protests from tea party conservatives, driven by a bipartisan desire to restore painful cuts in domestic and defense programs and show disaffected voters that Congress can do its job.

The bill swept through the House on a 359-67 vote and was on track for a big Senate vote by week's end. Republicans voted for the bill by a 2 1/2-1 margin, and just three Democrats were opposed.

The measure funds virtually every agency of government and contains compromises on almost every one of its 1,582 pages. It covers the one-third of government spending subject to annual decisions by Congress and the White House, programs that have absorbed the brunt of budget cuts racked up since Republicans reclaimed control of the House three years ago.

Excluded are the giant benefit programs like Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and food stamps that run on autopilot and are increasingly driving the government deeper into debt.

Tea party Republicans, chastened after sparking a 16-day partial shutdown of the government in October in a kamikaze attempt to derail President Barack Obama's health care law, appeared resigned to the bill.

"I don't think there's going to be a lot of opposition," one tea party leader, Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, said before the vote. "The die has been cast for the next year on budget fights."

To buy time for the Senate debate, Congress on Wednesday sent President Barack Obama a three-day funding bill in time to avert a scheduled shutdown at midnight. The Senate cleared that measure by an 86-14 vote and Obama quickly signed it into law.

The bill increases core agency spending by US$26 billion over the fiscal 2013 year, after last year's automatic spending cuts took them to $986 billion. But it's US$31 billion less than Congress passed last March before automatic cuts known as sequestration took effect.

The Pentagon faces a tight squeeze even as it avoids what would have been another US$20 billion wave of automatic cuts. The Pentagon's core budget is basically frozen at US$487 billion after most accounts absorbed an 8 percent automatic cut last year. Adding US$6 billion to Obama's war request provides some relief to readiness accounts, however, though active duty troop levels would still be cut by 40,000 to 1.36 million. It includes US$85 billion for overseas military operations, a slight cut from last year.

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This Aug. 1, 2013 file photo shows Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., flanked by Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin of Ill., left, and Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., speaking on Capitol Hill in Washington.

(AP)

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