WASHINGTON — The House took its first step to avert a government shutdown Wednesday as President Barack Obama began a series of rare meetings with Republican lawmakers, reviving chances for a long-term deal to reduce the deficit.
Washington looks to forgo forcing a fiscal crisis this month, as the House approved a six-month spending bill that would fund the government through the current fiscal year. The measure passed 267 to 151, with most Republicans supporting it and most Democrats opposing it.
The stopgap measure provides $982 billion, enough to keep federal agencies humming past March 27, when the mechanism funding the government expires. But it would lock in the across-the-board spending cuts known as the sequester for the rest of the fiscal year.
The bill now heads to the Senate. There is bipartisan optimism a final version will clear Congress by the end of the month.
With a government shutdown now unlikely, Obama is focusing on a new round of talks that the White House hopes can break the fiscal impasse. He's courting rank-and-file Republicans he thinks might be interested in a deal pairing cuts to entitlement programs with a tax overhaul that includes new revenues.
The president invited a group of GOP senators to a two-hour dinner Wednesday at a neutral, and tony, location: the Jefferson Hotel in downtown Washington. He picked up the tab.
Next week, Obama will make a rare trek to Capitol Hill to meet separately with the Democratic and Republican caucuses in both the House and Senate.
White House aides said they are encouraged by comments from Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and other Republicans that they're willing to consider a "grand bargain" including tax increases, though GOP leaders have resisted new tax revenue. Graham put together the guest list for the dinner, an aide said.
Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.