John Loggins/Newscom

House approves $915 billion spending plan

Payroll tax agreement still elusive.

The House voted 296-121 Friday to pass a $915-billion spending package to fund the federal government for the rest of the fiscal year, likely staving off a threatened midnight government shutdown.

The vote came after a week of legislative maneuvering had left the bipartisan spending blueprint frozen in the broader political conflict over whether to extend a payroll tax break for 160 million American workers. That fight continues. But the spending plan logjam broke late Thursday, when Democrats agreed to advance the package after Republicans made minor concessions over funding for a financial watchdog agency and to drop additional travel restrictions to Cuba.

The measure passed the House floor less than 24 hours later. As with previous spending packages this Congress, a bloc of hardline Republicans opposed the measure, with more than 80 members voting against it.

The biggest portion of the appropriations package, $518 billion, goes to the defense budget, which rose by $5.1 billion despite a broader retrenchment of spending. Few other areas were spared the budget knife.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Friday that the Obama administration had indicated the package's passage in the House would be sufficient - for now - to allow the government to continue to operate normally. A current stop-gap funding measure expires at midnight.

"The administration takes the view that if it's passed one House there will not be a government shutdown," McConnell said.

The Senate is expected to take up the $915-billion appropriations plan on Saturday, after Reid said Friday his chamber would consider the plan in the "next 36 hours

Meanwhile, Speaker John Boenher, R-Ohio, said that rank-and-file House members would be heading for the airports. "The members will go home, and if there's a need to come back to finish our work, we will do so," Boehner said

Negotiations continue over the payroll tax package, which also includes efforts to extend unemployment insurance benefits and protect physicians that treat Medicare patients from a rate cut.

The House has already approved payroll package, but included in it a provision to force the Obama administration to decide whether to allow controversial oil pipeline expansion, known as Keystone XL. Senate Democrats have said that plan is unacceptable.