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US House approves 2-year budget deal

Updated: 2013-12-13 13:47
( Xinhua)

WASHINGTON - US House of Representatives on Thursday approved a two-year budget plan crafted by bipartisan negotiators, a further step toward removing the threat of a government shutdown early next year.

Lawmakers voted 332-94 in favor of the deal, which was unveiled Tuesday evening by Senate Budget Committee Chairman Patty Murray and her House counterpart Paul Ryan.

The modest accord sets spending levels above 1 trillion US dollars for the next two fiscal years, eliminating 63 billion dollars in automatic spending cuts, known as the sequester.

Increase in the outlays would be offset by a variety of spending savings and revenue generators, including requiring federal employees to contribute more to their pensions and raising some government fees, which would total 85 billion dollars in a decade. In all, the deal would lower the budget deficit by more than 20 billion dollars.

Top Republicans in the House strongly backed the deal after it came out, dismissing criticism from some outside conservative groups.

"If you're for reducing the budget deficit, then you should be voting for this bill," said House Speaker John Boehner during the debate on the House floor. "If you're for cutting the size of government, you should be supporting this budget."

However, the bill includes no new taxes and does not make any changes to entitlement programs, falling far short of a long-sought grand bargain which would solve the underlying fiscal issues.

The bill now heads to the Democratic-led Senate with a vote expected next week.

If the bill is approved in the Senate and signed by President Barack Obama, it will become the first budget that leaders of both parties have agreed to through traditional budget process and temporarily end the budget war in a divided government.

"The bipartisan agreement passed by the House today represents a positive step forward for the nation and our economy," said the White House in a statement.

"There is much more Congress needs to do to ensure our economy works for every Americans. For one, Congress must act quickly to extend unemployment insurance to prevent Americans from losing a vital economic lifeline this holiday season and avoid an unnecessary hit to our economy," it added.

Without congressional action, the federal unemployment benefit program will expire at the end of December and the extended benefits of about 1.3 million Americans would be cut off.

Some Democrats mounted last-minute effort to add a three-month extension of unemployment benefits into the measure, but failed in a party-line procedure vote.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Thursday that extending unemployment benefits would be the "first item" on the Senate's agenda when the Congress returns to Washington next year.