Congress passes stopgap funding bill

WASHINGTON – Congress on Thursday cleared for President Bush must-pass bills to prevent a government shutdown and extend the Treasury Department’s ability to finance the budget deficit.

The stopgap spending bill, which the Senate approved 94-1, was needed because Congress has not sent Bush a single spending bill. Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., cast the only no vote, saying the bill gave Bush a “blank check” to continue the war in Iraq.

The debt limit increase measure passed by a 53-42 vote and comes as the government continues to leak red ink.

The bills will be shipped to the White House for Bush to sign by an Oct. 1 deadline. That’s when the new fiscal year starts and, coincidentally, when the government will hit its borrowing ceiling of $8.965 trillion. The new debt limit would be $9.815 trillion.

The stopgap spending bill would keep all 15 Cabinet departments running at current levels through mid-November, extend financing for a popular health insurance program covering children from low-income families, and dip deeply into a $70 billion fund for Pentagon operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Passage of the stopgap funding bill likely permits Democrats to put off until early next year a vote on Bush’s $189 billion request for Pentagon operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. That’s what Democratic leaders are signaling they will do.

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