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Congress OKs spending - until Tuesday

By Charles Riley, staff reporter

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Congress on Friday approved a three-day spending bill that will keep the government running until Tuesday at midnight.

The three-day "continuing resolution" came a little more than 24 hours before the current temporary spending measure was set to expire.

The vote represents the latest turn in what has become a contentious preview of one of the prime fiscal issues in Washington next year: The clash between the parties over spending.

In the short term, it means the House and Senate will have to take up the issue again next week as they try to figure out a solution for the current fiscal year, which ends in September.

The good news, if you can call it that, is that Congress has come down to the wire many times before and has usually managed to pass a funding bill without causing a government shutdown.

A shutdown would throw a real monkey wrench into both public and private operations, as the government shifts to performing only essential operations.

The circuitous process used by lawmakers this year is not how things are supposed to work.

Normally, lawmakers pass 12 appropriation bills for the president's approval. Those bills give federal agencies the legal authority to spend and conduct business.

This year, not one of the 12 has been approved by the Senate.

"In a rational world, we would pass all these things [12 appropriation bills] before the fiscal year begins," said Rudolph Penner, a former Congressional Budget Office director who is now public policy scholar at at the Urban Institute. "I think it's outrageous that we have gotten so used to passing continuing resolutions."

The last time Congress failed to pass funding bills, in 1995 and 1996, both political parties were damaged, with Republicans attracting most of the public's ire.

"They'd be crazy to let this happen again," Penner said. To top of page

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