* U.S. government funding secured through March 27
* Stopgap measure moves to Obama for signature
* U.S. Senate measure insists Iran be denied nuclear weapon
By David Lawder
WASHINGTON, Sept 22 A deeply divided and
unproductive Congress wrapped up its final business before
November's elections early on Saturday as the U.S. Senate passed
a stopgap measure to fund federal programs and avoid an Oct. 1
The 62-30 vote on the funding bill, which now moves to
President Barack Obama's desk to be signed into law, was delayed
by days of partisan bickering over votes on unrelated measures
aimed at boosting both Democrats' and Republicans' political
For the new fiscal year which begins on Oct. 1, the $524
billion measure slightly raises discretionary spending - which
funds government agencies and everything from defense to
national parks - from current levels.
It was needed because Congress' normal process of
appropriating money for government operations broke down amid
disagreements between Democrat and Republicans over spending
levels and funding was due to run out after Sept. 30.
"It is an inefficient way to fund the federal government but
it is better than shutting it down next week," said Democratic
Senator Daniel Inouye, the Democratic chairman of the Senate
Congress' bitter fights over spending cuts and raising the
debt limit last year led to threats of several shutdowns as
temporary funding measures expired. The last time government
funding actually ran out was late 1995 and early 1996, forcing
then-president Bill Clinton to shut down non-essential services
and furlough non-essential government workers for 28 days.
Saturday's vote allows lawmakers to return to their home
states for a final re-election campaign push, but they leave a
huge to-do list for their return after the Nov. 6 election.
By keeping the government funded through March 27, Congress
has somewhat lightened its post-election workload, which centers
on dealing with expiring tax cuts, automatic spending cuts, a
debt limit increase and other fiscal deadlines.
With relative peace over the budget, lawmakers will be able
to takle more difficult difficult questions - how to avoid $109
billion in automatic budget cuts that start on Jan. 2, and
whether to extend some or all of the tax cuts enacted under
former President George W Bush, which expire Dec. 31.
Moody's Investors Service has threatened to downgrade the
U.S. credit rating if Congress' deliberations do not reduce
budget deficits in a meaningful way. Economists warn that the
United States will slide back into recession if Congress fails
to take action to mute the massive impact of tax hikes and
IRAN RESOLUTION, HUNTING BILL
In other wrap-up business, the Senate also passed by a 90-1
vote a non-binding resolution insisting that the United States
prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons and ruling out any
strategy aimed at dealing with a nuclear-armed Iran.
The only senator to vote against the resolution was
Republican Rand Paul, a Tea Party and libertarian favorite, who
argued that it was a de-facto declaration of war.
Paul had sponsored another measure that would suspend
foreign aid to the governments of Pakistan, Egypt and Libya in
response to recent attacks on U.S. interests in these countries,
but this was soundly defeated by a vote of 81-10.
Senate Democrats also prevailed in a procedural vote that
keeps alive legislation aimed at boosting the re-election
chances of their colleague Senator Jon Tester, who is in a tight
re-election race that threatens the narrow Democratic majority
in the Senate.
Tester's measure would increase hunting and fishing access
on public lands - a move popular in his home state - and the
vote allows him to claim on the campaign trail that his plan is
superior to a similar measure offered by his opponent,
Republican Representative Denny Rehberg.