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US Senate passes spending bill to end government shutdown; House of Representatives to vote next

The United States Senate passed a critical stopgap spending bill in the early hours of Friday morning after an hours-long delay forced Congress to miss a midnight deadline and sent the government tumbling into a shutdown.

The bipartisan measure, which passed 71 to 28, is now headed to the House of Representatives for what is expected to be a pre-dawn vote on Friday, as congressional leaders scrambled to restrict the second government shutdown in three weeks to just a matter of hours.

US Capitol building in Washington. Reuters

US Capitol building in Washington. Reuters

But the fate of the bill remained uncertain in the lower chamber of Congress, where fiscal conservatives have bridled at excessive spending allowed under the budget deal, and with liberals complaining that it does nothing to shield many undocumented immigrants from deportation, a longstanding Democratic priority, reported AFP.

ABC News reported that the government shutdown could just last hours and cause minimal disruption if the House follows suit and also passes the two-year budget package, which includes funding to keep the government running through to 23 March.

If the house does not, the result would be an actual shutdown, the second of 2018, after a three-day shutdown in January.

The Senate vote was delayed when one remaining senator, Rand Paul of Kentucky, held up the vote when he demanded a debate in the chamber on his amendment to maintain spending caps.

Paul, angered at the huge spending increases at the centre of the deal, delayed passage for hours with a demand to vote on an amendment that would keep in place strict caps on spending that the deal would raise.

"The reason I'm here tonight is to put people on the spot. I want people to feel uncomfortable. I want them to have to answer people at home who said, 'How come you were against Barack Obama's deficits and then how come you're for Republican deficits?" he asked.

As midnight approached, Paul did not relent, bemoaning from the Senate floor what he saw as out-of-control government spending and repeatedly rebuffing attempts by his fellow senators to move ahead with a vote.

The bill would raise military and domestic spending by almost $300 billion over the next two years. With no offsets in the form of other spending cuts or new tax revenues, that additional spending would be financed by borrowed money.

Markets uneasy

The shutdown in Washington came at a sensitive time for financial markets. Stocks plunged on Thursday in New York on heavy volume, throwing off course a nearly nine-year bull run. The S&P 500 slumped 3.8 percent.

Markets barely flinched at the last shutdown in January, but that was before a dizzying selloff that started on 30 January amid concerns about inflation and higher interest rates, according to Reuters.

Uneasiness in the markets could be partially reduced by another part of the Senate bill, which would extend the federal debt ceiling to March 2019, preventing further confrontations over that volatile issue in Congress for more than a year.

With inputs from agencies


Published Date: Feb 09, 2018 13:15 PM | Updated Date: Feb 09, 2018 14:12 PM

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