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Congress OKs federal spending bill

By Charles Riley, staff reporter

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- With a government shutdown looming, Congress approved a temporary spending bill late Tuesday that will fund the government for another 10 weeks.

The current law funding the government -- a so-called continuing resolution -- was set to expire Tuesday at midnight.

After the Senate overwhelmingly approved the measure in the early afternoon, the House voted 193-165 in the evening to move the bill to President Obama's desk.

It's the third time in a month that Congress has faced a tight deadline to keep the government funded. The latest extension will keep it afloat until March 4.

And with Republicans taking control of the House in January and pledging spending cutbacks, the March expiration date sets up a full-fledged fight over the budget.

While a continuing resolution puts government spending on autopilot, the version under consideration does include some adjustments to spending levels, including the two-year freeze in pay for federal workers that President Obama called for in November.

And the measure will leave key Democratic legislative victories -- like health care and financial reform -- with less funding than if the massive $1.1 trillion "omnibus" extension killed by Republicans last week had passed.

Lawmakers left themselves a narrow window for action.

The failure to pass a new spending measure would leave the government without the authority to spend money for anything but essential operations.

Congress has come down to the wire many times before and has usually managed to pass a funding bill without causing a government shutdown.

Typically, 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.

Instead, lawmakers have relied on continuing resolutions. But when the new Republican-controlled House starts meeting in January, the GOP caucus is unlikely to be content with extending funding at current levels.

"Beginning ... January 5th, the American people are going to watch their Congress do something differently, at least in one house," Rep. John Boehner, the incoming Republican speaker, said Friday. "The House is going to become the outpost in Washington for the American people and their desire for a smaller, less costly, and more accountable government."

Before the 2010 midterm elections, House Republicans said that if they were in charge they would cut spending by at least $100 billion from the budget in the first year.

Asked on Friday which programs are likely to be cut, Boehner didn't specify.

"But I will tell you," he said. "We are going to cut spending."

It's a battle Democrats know is coming.

Sen. Tom Harkin, a Democrat from Iowa, took to the floor just before the final vote in the Senate to mount a defense of the social programs that were included in the omnibus, but not the continuing resolution.

"If they are going to cut 21% from all this, I just want to say there is going to be a battle. We are just not going to sit back and let these programs be decimated," Harkin said. To top of page

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