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House Approves Stopgap Spending Bill

The House on Thursday gave quick approval to a stopgap spending bill that will finance the government for the first four days of October, until lawmakers can return and vote on a more ambitious seven-week spending bill.

The stopgap bill, passed Monday by the Senate, goes now to President Obama, who is expected to sign it.

The House action came in a brief session attended by just a few lawmakers. Both houses of Congress are in recess, holding only pro forma sessions like the one on Thursday.

A partisan fight over the stopgap spending bill had raised the possibility that the government might have to shut down many of its operations starting on Saturday, the first day of the new fiscal year.

The fight, like so many on Capitol Hill this year, involved a dispute over money, as Republicans and Democrats disagreed over how to pay for assistance to victims of natural disasters like hurricanes, floods, tornadoes and wildfires.

The dispute was not resolved but simply deferred as the Federal Emergency Management Agency discovered that it had enough money to continue providing disaster aid through the end of the current fiscal year on Friday. Administration officials had previously said that the agency’s disaster relief fund might be depleted early this week.

The measure approved Thursday will be the 157th stopgap spending bill enacted since 1977, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service.

Such bills have become a regular feature of government as Congress has had difficulty completing the regular annual appropriations bills in a timely way.

From 1978 to 2011, Congress has enacted an average of more than four stopgap spending bills per fiscal year, according to the research service. In only three years were all the regular appropriations bills adopted on time. Congress resorted to temporary measures, also known as continuing resolutions, in the other years.

The latest dispute revolved around the question of how much, if any, of the cost of disaster assistance should be offset by cuts elsewhere in the federal budget.

Many House Republicans said such cuts were needed to keep federal spending under control. They voted for cuts in Energy Department programs that guaranteed loans for production of clean cars and the use of solar energy technology.

Democrats argued that disaster aid should not be held up while Congress hunted for ways to pay for it. And they said the loan guarantee programs were creating thousands of jobs.

Representative Robert B. Aderholt, Republican of Alabama, said last week that Congress needed to “scrutinize FEMA’s preliminary damage estimates” and could “no longer afford to simply throw money at calamities and then ask the hard questions later.”

Senator Mary L. Landrieu, Democrat of Louisiana, said this was a dangerous doctrine. Americans, she said, should not have to “scramble to find offsets while the water is rising and the wind is blowing.”

“If it is a manufacturing program today,” Ms. Landrieu said, “maybe next time we have a disaster, we will have to offer up education programs. And the next time we have a disaster, we will have to offer up a fourth of our transportation budget. And the next time we have a disaster, we will have to offer up aid to Israel. When does the offering up stop?”

via Robert Pear, The New York Times


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