US lawmakers unveil bill to fund government, avert shutdown 

US lawmakers unveil bill to fund government, avert shutdown 
US lawmakers unveil bill to fund government, avert shutdown 

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Nevin Al Sukari - Sana'a - US congressional negotiators yesterday unveiled a bill to fund key parts of the government through the rest of the fiscal year that began in October, as lawmakers faced yet another threat of a partial shutdown if they fail to act by Friday. — AFP pic

WASHINGTON, March 4 — US congressional negotiators yesterday unveiled a bill to fund key parts of the government through the rest of the fiscal year that began in October, as lawmakers faced yet another threat of a partial shutdown if they fail to act by Friday.

The legislation sets a discretionary spending level of US$1.66 trillion (RM7.88 trillion) for fiscal 2024, a spokesman for Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said. It fills in the details of an agreement that Schumer and Republican House of Representatives Speaker Mike Johnson set in early January.

Lawmakers last week passed the fourth stopgap measure since October 1 to keep the government funded, and set themselves two quick deadlines to act, with funding for a part of the government including the Department of Transportation and the Food and Drug Administration running out on March 8 and most other federal agencies partially shutting down on March 22.

The 1,050-page bill lays out in detail funding for six of the dozen segments of the government that Congress is charged with allocating money for, with the next six due by later in the month.

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The bill “maintains the aggressive investments Democrats secured for American families, American workers, and America’s national defence”, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said in a statement.

Johnson in a statement said, “House Republicans secured key conservative policy victories, rejected left-wing proposals, and imposed sharp cuts to agencies and programmes critical to the President Biden’s agenda.”

While the top leaders of Congress have agreed on the deal, it still faces some challenges, notably opposition by hardline Republicans in the House, who have repeatedly called for sharp spending cuts and typically do not vote for spending bills.

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That hardline energy, which led to the ouster of Johnson’s predecessor Kevin McCarthy, has also gained steam in the traditionally more staid Senate, leading to top Republican Mitch McConnell’s decision last week to step down from his leadership role at the end of this year.

House Republicans were touting the bill as a win, although with a deeply divided caucus they had little negotiating power. The bill includes a 10 per cent cut in funding to the Environmental Protection Agency, 7 per cent to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and 6 per cent to the FBI.

Schumer meanwhile emphasised that the bill fully funds a health programme for low-income families, “makes critical investments in our infrastructure, and strengthens programs that benefit services for our veterans”.

The ongoing brinkmanship and the nation’s US$34 trillion debt has unnerved credit agencies. Moody’s downgraded its financial outlook on the United States from “stable” to “negative” in November, citing large fiscal deficits and increasing political polarisation, though Fitch on Friday affirmed a “stable” outlook.

The House will have to vote on the bill first before the Senate can take up the package before Friday, Schumer said. The House is due to return to Washington tomorrow. — Reuters

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