WASHINGTON — No longer interested in shutting down the government, the Republican-led House approved legislation Thursday to keep it running into next year, jettisoning the GOP's earlier strategy of using the annual federal funding bill as leverage to extract spending cuts.
The House approved the measure, 329-91. The Senate, where Democrats hold a narrow majority, is expected to approve it before the Oct. 1 deadline, averting a government shutdown at the start of the new fiscal year.
Although many rank-and-file Republicans wanted steeper budget cuts, cooler political heads prevailed with the vote coming so close to the November election. GOP leaders did not want a rerun of the 2011 showdown that almost brought the government to a standstill.
Rep. Paul Ryan, the Republican vice presidential nominee, returned to Capitol Hill for his first appearance since becoming Mitt Romney's running mate. The Wisconsin congressman, who voted for the legislation, was greeted with applause.
Republican Rep. Hal Rogers of Kentucky, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, acknowledged that the short-term measure is "not our preferred way of doing it." But he said the bill "will keep the government's doors open and its wheels turning."
The stopgap measure will fund government through March 27 at levels agreed upon during last summer's debt deal between Congress and the White House.
That deal set spending levels for the upcoming fiscal year, and promised nearly $1.2 trillion in cuts to be made equally across defense and domestic programs over the next decade, beginning Jan. 3, unless a bipartisan supercommittee created last fall could find an alternative. The panel failed.
Now, with the cuts looming, Republicans are leading efforts to halt the Pentagon's portion. The House passed legislation Thursday that would shift the burden completely onto domestic programs.
President Barack Obama has promised to veto that GOP approach, which would slash funding for food stamps, school lunches and other programs to spare defense.