Congress will have seven weeks for Democrats and President Bush to settle their differences over government spending before a stopgap funding measure the House passed Wednesday runs out.

The continuing resolution (CR), which the House passed, 404-14, will fund the government through Nov. 16.

The Senate is expected to clear the measure (H J Res 52) for the president’s signature as early as Thursday. Senate Republicans backed away from a plan to offer an amendment that essentially would have put government spending on autopilot until Congress finishes its fiscal 2008 appropriations work.

The CR would keep funds flowing to federal agencies at fiscal 2007 levels. It is needed because no fiscal 2008 appropriations bills have been completed, and the new fiscal year begins Oct. 1.

During debate on the measure, House Appropriations Chairman David R. Obey, D-Wis., urged President Bush to start negotiating with Democratic leaders on the 12 annual spending bills, although Congress has yet to send the president a single bill.

“I would hope that we could shorten the process by sitting down now with the administration to work out compromises on those bills so that we don’t have to spend the next six weeks continuing to define our differences,” Obey said.

Bush has repeatedly threatened to veto individual spending bills because Democrats plan to spend $23 billion more in aggregate than the $933 billion President Bush has requested for the measures.

The House has passed all 12 fiscal 2008 bills. The Senate has passed only four, but it is likely to pass the fiscal 2008 Defense bill (HR 3222) before taking a weeklong Columbus Day recess.

Senate Plans

Senate Republican leaders do not appear to have any interest in delaying final passage of the CR.

Republicans had contemplated endorsing an amendment that would end the use of short-term funding measures by automatically enacting funding for government programs until spending work is finished.

But Minority Whip Trent Lott, R-Miss., said Republicans will probably hold back on offering such an amendment because the CR appears not to contain extraneous funding and would adequately fund the military.

He said the issue would be brought up again, however. “We got to quit doing this Russian roulette every year at the end of the fiscal year,” he said.
The Senate has often passed stopgap measures by unanimous consent or voice vote. But Tom Coburn, R-Okla., said he may object to doing so if he determines that any spending in the measure goes beyond an extension of fiscal 2007 funding.

GOP Amendment

In the House, Republicans offered a motion to recommit the bill and amend it with non-binding language praising Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. military commander in Iraq, and condemning for an ad it ran in The New York Times on Sept. 10 that questioned his truthfulness and referred to him as “Gen. Betray Us.”

Republicans have been trying to force Democrats to distance themselves from the liberal group, whose supporters overwhelmingly back Democrats at the polls. The Senate adopted a similar sense of the Senate resolution, 72-25, on Sept. 20.

The motion to recommit was adopted, 341-79, and the resolution was added to the bill as an amendment.

Debate on the stopgap measure was brief, although ranking GOP appropriator Jerry Lewis of California used his time to criticize Democrats for the slow pace of appropriations work, noting that they criticized Republicans for the same thing last year. Lewis warned against sending the president a catchall “omnibus” spending bill for fiscal 2008.

Such spending bills are often criticized because there is rarely enough time to scrutinize them and little opportunity to alter them. Obey, however, said he was not worried about the form in which the spending bills would be sent to the White House. “It is immaterial to me whether the bills are produced one by one or if they are produced in bunches,” he said.

The stopgap measure includes $5.2 billion in emergency spending for mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicles, known as MRAPs, that are used to shield soldiers from roadside bombs in Iraq.

It would continue funding for the Defense Department at the levels in the fiscal 2007 Defense appropriations bill (PL 109-289), which included $70 billion for the war in Iraq. That works out to about $9.4 billion for war accounts over the period covered by the measure. But the Pentagon has the flexibility to spend more if needed.

The CR also includes short-term extensions of funding that falls outside the appropriations process, including for the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), funding mechanisms for the Federal Aviation Administration and a program that aids workers affected by trade policies.

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