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Congress passes temporary spending measure

Congress approves a stopgap funding measure to keep the government running through Dec. 18.
Last-minute budget wrangling has become an annual event in Congress, which last completed its spending bills on time in 1994.KAREN BLEIER / AFP FILES
/ Source: Reuters

A temporary measure that would keep the U.S. government running through Dec. 18 cleared Congress on Thursday, giving lawmakers more time to work on spending bills for the current fiscal year.

The measure now heads to the White House for President Barack Obama to sign into law, presumably before current government funding runs out on Sunday.

It was attached to a $32.24 billion bill that increases the Environmental Protection Agency's budget by 26 percent.

Much of that increase would help local governments upgrade their drinking water and sewer systems. It also would fund cleanup efforts in the Great Lakes, Chesapeake Bay, San Francisco Bay and other bodies of water.

Republicans said the country cannot afford the increased spending at a time of record budget deficits but Democrats said the boost was needed to reverse cuts made by former President George W. Bush.

The bill also extends the current limit for U.S.-backed mortgages of $729,750 for single-family homes through the end of 2010, averting a lower limit that would have hurt housing markets had it kicked in at the end of this year.

Congress already has passed one stopgap measure to buy time while completing the 12 spending bills that fund government operations for the fiscal year that started October 1.

The temporary spending measure funds most government operations at their current levels, with increases for veterans' healthcare and Census operations. Last-minute budget wrangling has become an annual event in Congress, which last completed its spending bills on time in 1994.

Democrats had hoped to break that pattern this year. They moved all 12 bills quickly through the House, angering Republicans who said they were shut out of the process.

The bills have moved slowly through the Senate, where Republicans have greater power to raise objections.

Democrats may end up combining some or all of the seven remaining bills into one massive package for expediency's sake as healthcare legislation dominates the agenda in the coming months.

The temporary measure passed the Senate by a vote of 72 to 28, after passing the House of Representatives by a vote of 247 to 178 earlier in the day.