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U.S. House approves bill to avert government shutdown

Speaker of the U.S. House Mike Johnson, R-La., centre, flanked by Rep. Blake Moore, R-Utah, left, and Rep. Beth Van Duyne, R-Texas, discusses President Joe Biden for his policies at the Mexican border during a news conference at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024. (J. Scott Applewhite / AP Photo) Speaker of the U.S. House Mike Johnson, R-La., centre, flanked by Rep. Blake Moore, R-Utah, left, and Rep. Beth Van Duyne, R-Texas, discusses President Joe Biden for his policies at the Mexican border during a news conference at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024. (J. Scott Applewhite / AP Photo)
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WASHINGTON -

The Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday approved a bill to avert a partial government shutdown, sending the measure to the Democratic-majority Senate less than two days before funding for some federal agencies runs out.

Two-hundred and seven Democrats joined 113 Republicans in a 320-99 vote to approve the short-term stopgap measure, which would extend by one week federal funding that expires at midnight on Friday (0500 GMT on Saturday) and set a March 22 funding deadline for other government agencies.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said he hoped his chamber would pass the bill, known as a continuing resolution, or "CR," on Thursday evening and forward it to President Joe Biden to sign into law.

While both chambers' leaders agreed on the measure, there are potential stumbling blocks in the Senate, where some hardline Republicans are expected to demand amendment votes in exchange for their consent to fast-track the bill.

The stopgap, the fourth needed to keep federal agencies open in the fiscal year that began on Oct. 1, is intended to give the U.S. House and Senate time to pass 12 appropriations bills to fund the government.

About two months have passed since Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson and Schumer agreed on a US$1.59 trillion discretionary spending level for the fiscal year. House and Senate leaders on Wednesday reached agreement on a slate of full-year appropriations bills to fill in the details.

Johnson, who has wielded the speaker's gavel only since late October, once again relied on a procedural move that required substantial Democratic support to pass the CR, a tactic that could anger hardline conservatives.

In a sign of potential problems for Johnson, the measure was opposed by 97 Republicans.

Johnson had been pressured by hardline Republicans to use a shutdown as a bargaining chip to force Democrats to accept conservative policy riders, including partisan provisions to restrict the flow of migrants across the U.S.-Mexico border.

"We're not going to do anything to actually change the border. We're not going to do anything that's going to actually hold the line," said Representative Chip Roy, a prominent hardliner. "It's just the Swamp doing what the Swamp does!" he added, using a pejorative term for Washington politics.

But Republican Representative Patrick McHenry predicted that Johnson would face no threat as a result of votes on spending legislation, unlike his predecessor Kevin McCarthy, who a small group of hardliners voted out of leadership for passing a bipartisan bill to avert a shutdown in September.

"This is the House Republicans coming to terms with reality," said McHenry. "It's been clear for months that this is the outcome. To get on with it is the best thing."

Major ratings agencies say the repeated brinkmanship is taking a toll on the creditworthiness of a nation whose debt has surpassed US$34 trillion.

Johnson is likely to face heightened hardline pressure after the first appropriations bills are unveiled this weekend. Hardliners say they expect the bills to show few conservative victories on spending or policy.

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