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US lawmakers agree on US$447 b to fund government

US lawmakers agreed yesterday on a US$447 billion spending bill that would fund large parts of the US government for the fiscal year that began more than two months ago.

Agencies from the Justice Department to the Treasury are operating on temporary extensions of last year's budget because Congress did not finish its work on spending bills before the fiscal year began on Oct. 1.

The massive package approved by House of Representatives and Senate negotiators combines six individual spending bills that fund everything from transportation projects to foreign aid, often at substantial increases over the previous year.

The spending bills fund routine government operations and must be passed each year, unlike extraordinary legislation like the US$787 billion economic stimulus bill passed in February.

The House is expected to vote on the bill this week but it could run into trouble in the Senate, where Republicans have vowed to block it unless several provisions relating to abortion are changed.

Republicans at the negotiating table failed to strip out one of those provisions, which would allow the District of Columbia to pay for abortions. Under current law, federal money may not be used to pay for abortions but all 50 states have the freedom to do so if they choose.

The District of Columbia, home to the capital Washington, is not a state. Congress must approve the city's budget and has the right to overturn its laws.

Lawmakers must complete work on the spending bill and a separate measure funding the Defense Department before Dec. 18, when a temporary bill to keep the government running expires. Congress last completed its spending bills on time in 1994.

Because they are viewed as must-pass legislation, spending bills often attract unpopular measures that might not pass on their own -- such as raising the federal government's US$12.1 trillion debt limit, which it will reach soon.

But the massive bill contains only the spending measures that lawmakers have developed over the course of the year, members of both parties said.

"I'm pleased that this bill will be a clean one," said Democratic Senator Daniel Inouye, who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee.

The Defense Department spending bill might serve as a vehicle for raising the debt limit or legislation to boost job creation, lawmakers and aides said. It could come up for a vote next week.

House Republicans will not support that approach, said Representative Jerry Lewis, the top Republican on the House Appropriations Committee.

Lewis and other Republicans said the government is spending too much money at a time when it is racking up record deficits.

"We don't know where this money's coming from but we are spending it tonight," said Republican Representative Todd Tiahrt.


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