WASHINGTON — Congress cleared a stopgap funding bill Tuesday to keep the federal government open into March, a temporary truce until Republicans and President Barack Obama rejoin the battle over the budget next year.
The bill was passed by the House in the evening just hours after speeding through the Senate. Obama was poised to sign it by midnight to avoid a government shutdown.
The measure would freeze agency budgets at current levels. That's still too high for Republicans set to take over the House, who vow to make cuts. That will be difficult to achieve, even though they will control the House and possess greater strength in the Senate. The bill would also create hardship at the Pentagon and the Homeland Security Department, which will be denied funding increases until their budgets pass next year.
The measure is needed because the Democratic-controlled Congress — in an unprecedented failure to complete its most basic job on passing a budget — has failed to enact a single one of the 12 annual spending bills that fund the day-to-day operations of every federal agency.
The House cleared the bill for Obama on a 193-165 vote after a 79-16 vote in the Senate.
Republicans promise to try next year to cut most domestic agency budgets back to pre-Obama levels. Such cuts would exceed 20 percent for some agencies.
Pushing to restrain health insurance premiums, the Obama administration on Tuesday set out new rules requiring insurers to justify any increase of 10 percent or more next year.
The regulation was authorized by the new health care law President Barack Obama signed in March. If a rate increase were found to be unjustified, that finding would be posted on the websites of the Department of Health and Human Services and the carrier. The law does not give federal officials the ability to reject the rate increase outright.
The CIA has launched a task force to assess the impact of the exposure of thousands of U.S. diplomatic cables and military files by WikiLeaks. The agency has been relatively unscathed by WikiLeaks; only a handful of CIA files have surfaced on the WikiLeaks website, and records from other agencies posted online reveal remarkably little about CIA employees or operations.
Information from the Associated Press and the Washington Post was used in this report.