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US Republicans move to muscle spending bill through House

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Thu, 15 Dec 2011 15:12 GMT
Author: Reuters
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* Temporary spending measure expires at midnight Friday

* Abortion funding restrictions remain in bill

* Spending bill gives military more funds (Adds details)

By Rachelle Younglai

WASHINGTON, Dec 15 (Reuters) - Republicans introduced a ${esc.dollar}915 billion spending bill in the U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday in an attempt to force Democrats to finalize legislation that would keep the U.S. government operating beyond the weekend.

Senate Democratic and Republican leaders were working on a separate compromise spending bill as well as a deal to extend a payroll tax cut for another year. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Republican leader Mitch McConnell expressed optimism that a bipartisan deal could be reached soon.

Only two days are left until a temporary funding measure expires and the government is forced to shut down major services run by the departments of defense, education, health and labor.

The House intends to vote on the gigantic spending bill on Friday, according to a Republican leadership aide.

The move by House Republican leadership was the latest in a high-stakes fight that has been escalating for weeks in Congress over a series of important end-of-year bills that also could have an impact on the 2012 presidential and congressional election campaigns.

The White House has made clear it objects to some of the policy initiatives Republicans want in the spending bill that would run through the fiscal year ending Sept. 30. It has asked Congress to pass a stop-gap spending bill to provide more time to work out a compromise. Republicans have not indicated they would advance such a bill.

But that is not the only area of friction. Democrats and Republicans also are fighting over how to extend a payroll tax cut for 160 million Americans that is set to expire on Dec. 31 and unemployment insurance benefits that begin phasing out early next year.

All these measures are becoming intertwined in maneuvers and negotiations on Capitol Hill.

The House spending bill, which would provide funds for crucial government functions such as patrolling the U.S. borders, faces an uncertain future in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

Lawmakers in charge of government spending had reached a tentative agreement on the spending bill on Monday. But at the White House's request, Senate Democrats have held back in order to force Republicans to stay in town ahead of New Year holidays to reach an agreement on the payroll tax cut and unemployment benefits.

Democrats had said there were problems with parts of the bill, including provisions to tighten travel to Cuba and abortion funding restrictions. Those measures remained in the House bill.

Fights over the budget, spending and taxes brought the government close to a shutdown earlier this year.

Under the bill introduced by House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers, the Pentagon's budget would increase ${esc.dollar}5.1 billion to ${esc.dollar}518.1 billion. The Defense Department would also get ${esc.dollar}115 billion for overseas military operations.

Funding for the Environmental Protection Agency would be cut and the Securities and Exchange Commission's budget would get a small boost to help the agency implement the dozens of rules required under the Dodd-Frank financial industry regulation bill.

Overall spending would be lower than last year after Congress agreed to a spending cap of ${esc.dollar}1.043 trillion for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2012.

(Writing by Rachelle Younglai and Richard Cowan) (Reporting By Richard Cowan)

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