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Government Shutdown Averted as Congress Passes Spending Bill

30 Sep

WASHINGTON — With only hours to spare on the last day of the fiscal year, Congress approved a temporary spending measure to avert a shutdown and keep the federal government operating through Dec. 11.

In the House, the measure was approved only because of strong support by Democrats — a sign of just how angry rank-and-file Republicans remain over their powerlessness to force policy changes on the Obama administration.

In one last display of their fury, House Republicans on Tuesday adopted another resolution to cut off government financing to Planned Parenthood. The resolution was to be sent to the Senate, where Democrats were certain to block it.

Ultimately, the internal Republican fight over the bill and how strongly to confront the White House cost John A. Boehner his job as speaker. Mr. Boehner’s resignation announcement last week essentially assured Democratic support for the measure. But the temporary spending bill does nothing to resolve the core disputes between Republicans and the White House, setting up even bigger battles in the months ahead.

Congressional Democrats and Obama administration officials said they were eager to begin negotiations with Republicans on a longer-term spending measure. It is far from clear, however, that any deal can be reached soon, given the upheaval in the House.

The temporary spending measure will keep the government operating at roughly last year’s levels — a rate of about $1.017 trillion a year, with some notable changes for emergency situations such as $700 million to fight wildfires in the West.

In the larger debate, President Obama and Democrats are pushing to lift spending caps agreed to in previous fights, saying they are constraining economic growth and job creation.

Republicans are generally opposed to increasing spending, but some are concerned about the effect of the previous caps, particularly on military spending. At the very least, these Republicans say, there should be negotiations to readjust spending priorities.

Among the issues that the White House and Republicans must confront are a potential need to raise the federal debt ceiling, the expiration of many highway programs at the end of October, the reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank and the need for a longer-term spending agreement.

The White House press secretary, Josh Earnest, said that the administration was eager for negotiations on spending, but that Congressional Republicans would first need to engage their Democratic counterparts rather than trying to bypass them. “The kinds of conversations that we are interested in having are conversations that prevent a government shutdown and conversations that ensure our national security and economic priorities are equally funded,” Mr. Earnest said.

While Mr. Boehner has expressed a desire to do as much as possible before he leaves Congress at the end of October — “I don’t want to leave my successor a dirty barn,” he said — it seems unlikely that many of the big issues can be resolved before his departure. The House is scheduled to be in session only 13 days in October.

There is a weeklong recess for Columbus Day, and there will be several distractions. Not only do House Republicans need to choose new leadership next week, but on Oct. 22, Hillary Rodham Clinton, the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination, will be on Capitol Hill to testify before the Select Committee on Benghazi.

Asked how much Mr. Boehner would be able to accomplish, Representative Peter Roskam, Republican of Illinois, replied: “Less than he thinks.”

Continuing the bitter debate over spending on the Senate floor, each party blamed the other for forcing the government to the edge of a shutdown. Senator Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, noted that Democrats had blocked all 12 spending bills that were approved by the Appropriations Committee. It was “part of some arbitrary strategy,” he said, “to force our nation to the brink.”

Mr. McConnell said Democrats should shift tactics if they want to achieve a broader fiscal agreement. “I think the American people are ready for our colleagues to finally get serious and get back to work,” he said. He added, “Moving forward will require Democrats to turn the page on bad habits and dysfunction.”

The Senate Democratic leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, noted Mr. Boehner’s resignation and described the Republicans as being in disarray. “He’s resigning because he knows he can’t deal with these people,” Mr. Reid said.

“We have to do better than just keeping the federal government operating by a continuing resolution,” he said. “We have stop devastating sequester cuts from hitting our military and our middle class.”

Mr. Reid warned that the fight over raising the federal debt ceiling would be more urgent than the spending fight. “We all know that in a matter of weeks unless we act the United States will lose its ability to pay its bills,” he said. “If you think shutting the government down is bad, and I do, it pales in comparison to the government defaulting on all its debts.”