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US spending bill passes House, heads to Senate as deadline looms

Michael Mathes

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Washington (AFP) - US lawmakers advanced a critical $1.3 trillion federal spending bill Thursday, as Congress sprints to avoid a another embarrassing government shutdown ahead of a rapidly approaching funding deadline.

President Donald Trump has given his blessing to the bipartisan deal that negotiators clinched the previous evening, even though the White House acknowledged it did not fulfill all of their wishes.

With a Friday midnight deadline looming, the catchall bill, known as an "omnibus," comfortably passed the House of Representatives on a 256-167 vote.

"The House just voted to rebuild our military, secure our borders, and give our service members their largest pay raise in eight years," House Speaker Paul Ryan said after the vote.

The bill now heads to the Senate for debate and final passage. It was introduced late Wednesday after weeks of haggling, leaving lawmakers mere hours to peruse and vote on a 2,232-page bill that will touch every aspect of American life.

"Is the president going to sign the bill? The answer is yes," Mick Mulvaney, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, told reporters.

"Is it perfect? No. Is it exactly what we asked for? No."

It sets defense spending levels at $700 billion for the year, an increase of $61 billion over the 2017 cap, while non-defense domestic spending will reach $591 billion, an increase of about 10 percent.

It provides $1.6 billion -- far less than Trump wanted -- for border security and funds to construct or fix nearly 100 miles (160 kilometers) of border fencing and barriers, boosts infrastructure spending, and increases funds for school safety and student grants.

It leaves intact funding for women's health provider Planned Parenthood, a target of relentless criticsm from pro-life Republicans.

- 'Poor way to legislate' -

But in a major blow to Democrats, it fails to include protections for immigrants who arrived in the country illegally as children, or language that would help prevent the president from firing Robert Mueller, the special counsel heading the investigation of Russia's meddling in the 2016 elections.

And it leaves out a long-sought provision to stabilize the insurance market by funding subsidies that could lower insurance rates for low-income families by about 40 percent.

That health care negotiation apparently broke down over disputes over abortion-related language in the bill.

"I'm extremely disappointed," the provision's co-author, Senate Republican Susan Collins, told reporters.

Among the sensitive issues addressed in the bill is gun safety, which has been the focus of national attention in the aftermath of deadly school shootings.

Lawmakers said it includes a provision to strengthen compliance with background checks for firearm sales, and one that reverses what has essentially served as a ban on federal research on gun violence.

Even while professing his support, Trump lamented having to "waste money" on "Dem giveaways" to secure the military funding.

Timing over the next 36 hours is critical.

The Senate is now set to consider the measure, but any senator can slow down the process if he or she does not want to speed the bill through, dragging debate beyond the Friday deadline.

"Clearly it's a concern," Republican Senator Roger Wicker told AFP about the short timing. "And it's a very poor way to legislate."