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Congress approves temporary spending bill to keep government open

WASHINGTON — Congress approved a short-term funding bill Thursday that ends the possibility of a federal government shutdown next week. But a broader budget battle about taxes and spending for the year is just beginning.

The stopgap spending resolution, approved on a broad bipartisan vote in the House, locks in the $85 billion across-the-board spending cuts known as the sequester through the Sept. 30 end of the fiscal year.

But the legislation includes provisions that will blunt the impact of the sequester. Within hours of the bill's passage, the Defense Department announced that furlough notices scheduled to go out today to 800,000 civilian workers will be delayed until April 5 to give officials time to see if the new budget will still require 22 unpaid days.

Congress' action also halted furloughs for thousands of meat inspectors by transferring $55 million from other agriculture programs, officials said.

But in a rebuff to the Postal Service, it requires the post office to maintain Saturday delivery.

The House vote, which provides funding for the government for the six months starting March 28, came a day after the Senate approved the bill. It now goes to President Barack Obama for his signature, ending a relatively smooth and drama-free process for a Congress that has repeatedly found itself deadlocked on spending issues.

Still, the bill covers only the next six months.

Lawmakers are debating how much to tax and spend for the years to come. On Thursday, the House also approved a budget blueprint by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., in a mostly partisan 221 to 207 vote. Ten Republicans joined House Democrats in opposing the Ryan budget measure.

Ryan's plan calls for balancing the budget over a decade by slicing $5 trillion from future spending, including by block-granting programs for the poor and overhauling Medicare for people 54 and younger.

Democrats slammed Ryan's plan as too austere.

It clashes dramatically with a budget proposal offered by Senate Democrats that will face a vote as soon today. The proposal by Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., would raise taxes by nearly $1 trillion over the next decade in an effort to stabilize deficits but would not balance the budget in that time.

Trying to reconcile those visions will consume Washington in coming months, as leaders look to the next fiscal showdown: a to-be-determined deadline in summer when the Treasury will need congressional approval to increase its borrowing authority.

Congress approves temporary spending bill to keep government open 03/21/13 [Last modified: Thursday, March 21, 2013 11:10pm]
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