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$147B spending bill sent on to president

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WASHINGTON -- Moving to head off a government shutdown, Congress has overwhelmingly approved a compromise spending bill and pledged agreement on a short-term bill to fund the government through early December.

The House on Thursday approved a $147 billion package to fund the Energy Department, veterans' programs and the legislative branch. The 377-20 vote came a day after the Senate passed the measure, 92-5. The bill now goes to White House, where President Donald Trump is expected to sign it.

The quick action in the House and Senate came as legislative leaders announced agreement on a bill to fund the rest of the government through Dec. 7. Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-N.J., chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said the short-term plan would be added to a separate spending bill that lawmakers are negotiating to cover the Defense Department and labor, health and education programs.

The stopgap bill would not address Trump's long-promised wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. GOP leaders have said they prefer to resolve the issue after the Nov. 6 elections.

It was not clear whether Trump would back this approach, but a Republican aide said the White House had not indicated any immediate opposition.

The bill approved Thursday was the first of three spending measures Congress hopes to approve this month to avoid a government shutdown when the new budget year begins Oct. 1.

Republican leaders moved up the Senate vote, citing the threat of Hurricane Florence bearing down on the southeast coast. The House and Senate both adjourned for the week immediately after the budget votes.

Approval of the spending bill marked a departure from recent years, when Congress routinely ignored agency-specific spending measures in favor of large packages that funded the entire government at once. Trump has said he would not sign another bloated bill.

The three compromise spending plans, if passed by Congress and signed by Trump, would account for nearly 90 percent of annual federal spending, including the military and most civilian agencies.

U.S. Sen. John Boozman, who serves on the Senate Appropriations Committee, was glad to see the legislation advance.

"Passing appropriations bills is a basic responsibility of Congress. The return to regular order lets us make better decisions about how we spend hard-earned taxpayer dollars," the Republican from Rogers said in a written statement. "I'm pleased that we can fund these critical programs by working through the traditional process ..."

In the statement, Boozman said the package "contains $14 million for improvements to the hydrant fuel system at Little Rock Air Force Base in addition to a measure to move forward with improvements to the base's runway."

U.S. Rep. Steve Womack, who chairs the House Budget Committee, said passage of the appropriations package "delivers wins for Arkansans and the American people by providing for our national defense, supporting veterans, and investing in vital infrastructure."

It's been a decade since a series of appropriations bills were ready for the president's signature before the start of the new fiscal year, he noted in his written statement.

"Getting back to regular order is a significant step forward in our process and one that must continue," Womack said. "There is more work to be done before we fulfill all of our funding responsibilities, but I look forward to seeing this package signed into law."

U.S. Rep. French Hill, a Republican from Little Rock, also released a written statement hailing the vote.

"Since coming to Congress, I have said that the only way to get control of federal spending is to take charge of it and stop funding the government through short-term spending packages that are not faithful to the priorities of Arkansans, and today we have done just that," he said. "Today's bill marks the start of a new era -- getting spending bills done on time with the proper input of Congress and the American people."

Information for this article was contributed by Matthew Daly of The Associated Press; and by Frank E. Lockwood of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

A Section on 09/14/2018

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