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House Passes Bill To Temporarily Avert Shutdown

The Republican-controlled House of Representatives passed legislation Tuesday that avoids a U.S. government shutdown for two weeks, but cuts $4 billion in spending.

The government was in danger of shutting down Friday because Congress had never appropriated money to fund all of the government's spending plan for the fiscal year that ends Sept. 30.

Senate Democrats have been strongly resisting extreme spending cuts pushed by House Republicans for the remaining seven months of the budget year but said they would go along with the temporary measure. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told reporters he expected the two-week bill to go to President Obama for his signature within 48 hours.

Senate Democrats have been strongly resisting extreme spending cuts pushed by House Republicans for the remaining seven months of the budget year but said they would go along with the temporary measure.

"We'll pass this and then look at funding the government on a long-term basis,'' Reid said.

The government last shut down for lack of funds in 1996 when President Bill Clinton, a Democrat, refused to bend to demands from then-Republican Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. That standoff ended by boosting Clinton's political prospects and his re-election to a second term.

Earlier Tuesday, the White House pressed for $8 billion in immediate spending cuts as part of a four- or five-week stopgap measure to avoid a partial shutdown of the government and provide more time for talks on a longer-term bill.

House Speak John Boehner would not bend.

"If there had been a conversation about this 10 days ago or two days ago, we might have had something to talk about,'' he said. "But the fact is we were forced to move on our own.''

Although the short-term funding agreement forestalls a shutdown for two weeks beyond the Friday deadline, Republicans and Democrats remain poles apart on a longer-term solution for pulling the U.S. out of its spiraling debt crisis. The U.S. debt is at a record $14.2 trillion.

At issue are government agency operating budgets passed each year by Congress that account for about one-third of the overall federal spending and are funded through appropriations bills. When they controlled both houses of Congress last year, Democrats failed to pass a single such measure to cover the current fiscal year. Instead they kept the funds flowing through Friday with what are known as continuing resolutions a temporary measure.

Republicans, using the power of their new majority status in the House of Representatives and under heavy pressure from newcomers in the caucus supported by the ultraconservative tea party movement, voted last week to cut $61 billion out of the budget for the seven months remaining in the current fiscal year. The $4 billion in cuts for two weeks would meet that overall target if cutbacks continued at that pace through the end of September.

The legislation passed Tuesday applies some of the cuts to areas mentioned by Obama for reductions in his next budget as well as earmarks, or lawmakers' special projects. Obama wants to see an end to that practice whereby legislators slip spending for projects in their districts or states into larger appropriations bills.

Negotiations over a longer-term solution are likely to be very difficult as Boehner seeks to satisfy his budget-cutting, tea party allied freshmen members while still managing to reach a deal with Democrats controlling the Senate and the White House.

Tuesday's House measure keeps most federal agencies running at last year's spending levels through March 18, in line with two temporary funding bills passed last year under Democratic control of Congress. The cuts include Army Corps of Engineers water projects, homeland security earmarks and highway programs.

Democrats say the larger $61 billion cut approved by Republicans for the rest of the budget year would lead to the furlough of thousands of federal workers, pull money out of the economy and risk slowing the fragile recovery. The cuts are far more dramatic than attempted under prior Republican control of Congress, and would hit or eliminate hundreds of programs, including education, food inspection, health research, environmental regulation and public broadcasting, among many others.

At the same time, Republicans in the Senate have leverage that may prompt Democrats in the chamber to go along. Democrats control the Senate with 53 votes of 100 seats, but at least a handful advocate immediate spending cuts and appear unwilling to support a short-term spending bill at current levels.

This program aired on March 1, 2011. The audio for this program is not available.

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