Congress averts shutdown, for now

| Thursday, March 21, 2013, 7:21 p.m.

Congress has approved a short-term funding measure, preventing the chance of a federal government shutdown next week.

A broader battle over taxes and spending for the year, though, is just beginning.

The House gave final approval Thursday, in a bipartisan 318-109 vote, to a continued-funding resolution that outlines spending through the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30. The resolution assures that the government would stay open when the current funding measure expires March 27.

The Senate approved the bill on Wednesday. The legislation goes to President Obama for his signature, ending a relatively smooth and drama-free process for a Congress that has repeatedly deadlocked on spending issues.

The resolution, however, covers only the next six months.

Lawmakers still are debating how much to tax and spend for the years to come. On Thursday, the House approved a budget blueprint by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., in a mostly partisan 221-207 vote. Ten Republicans joined House Democrats in opposing the Ryan budget measure.

Ryan's plan calls for balancing the budget over the decade by slicing $5 trillion from spending, including block-grant programs for the poor and overhauling Medicare for people 54 and younger. The plan would incorporate $600 billion in tax hikes approved by Congress over Republican objections as part of the year-end fiscal cliff fight.

“They are sticking to the status quo — more taxing, more spending, more borrowing,” Ryan said on the House floor on Thursday morning, referring to Democrats and urging passage of his plan. “This budget recognizes that concern for the poor is not measured by how much money we spend in Washington but, instead, how many people we get out of poverty.”

Democrats slammed Ryan's plan as too austere — particularly its proposal to end Medicare as a guaranteed benefit for seniors. They said voters defeated that idea in the Nov. 6 presidential election.

“The American people voted, and they resoundingly rejected the approach that is now taken once again, for the third year in a row, in this Republican budget,” said Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md.

Trying to reconcile Republicans' and Democrats' visions will consume Washington in the coming months, as the nation again hits the federal borrowing limit this summer, requiring congressional action to keep the country from defaulting on its spending obligations.

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