(Adds Senate delay on bill, Flint water assistance)
By Richard Cowan
WASHINGTON Dec 8 The U.S. House of
Representatives on Thursday overwhelmingly passed legislation to
keep federal agencies funded until April 28 and avert government
shutdowns at the end of this week when existing appropriations
By a vote of 326-96, the House passed the legislation that
is now before the Senate where it has encountered opposition
from Democrats who are upset over the refusal by Republicans to
include a long-term extension of expiring healthcare benefits
for retired coal miners and their families.
Instead, the bill would continue the benefits only until
"I've never seen anything this callous in my life," said
West Virginia Democratic Senator Joe Manchin.
As a result, the Senate might not be able to vote on the
spending bill until sometime this weekend, technically putting
the U.S. government into a partial shutdown mode on Saturday.
Flint, Michigan, which has endured a two-and-a-half-year
struggle with lead-contaminated drinking water, would get access
to a $170 million fund for infrastructure improvements and lead
poisoning prevention under the bill.
The stop-gap funding bill reflects the inability of the
Republican-controlled Congress to pass the dozen regular
appropriations bills for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1 and
runs through Sept. 30, 2017, freezing most spending at current
Congress was unable to pass them in part because of internal
disagreements among Republicans on some of those measures and
because Democrats held firm to an earlier budget deal that aims
to restrain spending caps on defense as long as those caps were
imposed on other domestic programs.
Congress likely will end up arguing well into 2017 over
spending priorities for the current fiscal year even as it must
begin considering funding government operations in fiscal 2018.
Congress' delay in finishing its work also means that
President-elect Donald Trump, who takes office on Jan. 20, will
have some say in government spending priorities for the period
of April 28-Sept. 30, instead of President Barack Obama.
A provision is also embedded in the spending bill to make it
easier for Trump to win confirmation of General James Mattis to
be defense secretary early next year. Republicans demanded it to
help Mattis get around a requirement that the defense secretary
be a civilian for seven years before taking the job. Mattis
retired from the military in 2013.
The bill moving through Congress, as lawmakers try wrapping
up their work for the year, contains $5.8 billion for waging
military operations against the Islamic State worldwide.
(Reporting By Richard Cowan; Editing by Chris Reese and Alan