Congress averts shutdown, puts off spending bills until February

At about midnight Friday, the Senate by voice vote approved a continuing resolution extending until Feb. 15 funding for the 13 federal departments and various programs whose appropriations bills have not been passed.

President Bush signed that CR, which had previously been approved by the House, Saturday morning.

The House adjourned shortly after 3 a.m., with the Senate following at 4:40 a.m.

GOP leaders defused a few potential political time-bombs in the measure, by agreeing to insert language blocking members' pay raises, set to take effect Jan. 1, for the duration of the CR. That would enable incoming Democratic leaders to tie legislation raising the federal minimum wage with the lawmakers' annual cost-of-living adjustment.

House Republicans also agreed to allow the Veterans Affairs Department to transfer up to $684 million from other accounts to cushion the CR's impact on veterans' medical services.

Only the Defense and Homeland Security measures have been signed into law. Generally, the CR funds agencies and programs covered by the nine remaining fiscal 2007 appropriations at the lowest rate in either the House or Senate-passed bills or fiscal 2006 enacted levels.

Neither chamber was able to pass the 2007 Labor-HHS measure, creating a scenario where education and job training programs actually fare better because they would be funded at the higher 2006 rate. But the National Institutes of Health budget, community health centers and other healthcare programs would all take a hit.

Lawmakers agreed to include certain "anomalies," or adjustments in special circumstances. For example, entitlement programs which rely on appropriated funds, such as food stamps, child support enforcement and payments to low-income elderly and disabled individuals, would not be affected.

Agencies that would ordinarily have to furlough employees are allotted flexibility under the CR to avoid that. Lawmakers agreed to extend a provision allowing restricted snowmobile use in Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park, which otherwise could be blocked because of ongoing litigation by environmental groups. Financially strapped airlines also benefit from an extension of government-backed insurance coverage for any losses suffered as a result of acts of terrorism.

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