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House passes three-week government spending extension

From Deirdre Walsh, CNN Congressional Producer
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said he expects the extension to win approval to avert a government shutdown.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said he expects the extension to win approval to avert a government shutdown.
  • NEW: The House votes 271-158 for the extension, which now goes to the Senate
  • Senate Republican leader predicts the short-term extension will pass
  • House Speaker acknowledges that conservatives want more cuts
  • If approved by the Senate, the bill averts a government shutdown after Friday

Washington (CNN) -- A three-week extension of government funding won approval Tuesday from the U.S. House, with Democratic support overcoming opposition by some conservative Republicans.

The 271-158 vote sends the measure to the Senate for consideration before the current government spending authorization expires Friday. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, said Tuesday that he expected it to win approval this week to avert a government shutdown.

McConnell also said that negotiations have started between House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, on a compromise agreement to fund the government for the rest of the current fiscal year, which ends September 30.

According to McConnell, the compromise would come up for consideration before the Easter recess in mid-April.

The White House welcomed Tuesday's House vote and urged the Senate to also pass it to avoid shutdown and provide "some breathing room to find consensus" on funding for the rest of the fiscal year.

President Barack Obama has been clear that "with the wide range of issues facing our nation, we cannot keep funding the government in two or three week increments," said the statement by White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, who reiterated Obama's opposition to cuts in "critical" spending for education, research, clean energy and other growth areas.

While Tuesday's House vote provided easy passage for the short-term spending extension, it reflected dissatisfaction by conservative Republicans who seek deep cuts in non-military discretionary spending that comprises 12% of the federal budget.

When the House voted earlier this month for the two-week funding authorization that expires Friday, only six Republicans opposed, while on Tuesday, 54 voted against the new three-week extension.

The Republican opponents meant the measure would have failed without some Democratic support, showing the potential need for Boehner to work with the opposition caucus on a spending plan for the rest of fiscal 2011 as well as the fiscal 2012 budget.

Before Tuesday's vote, Boehner said that he knows some conservatives in the Republican caucus, especially Tea Party-backed newcomers elected last November, are calling for immediate deep spending cuts for the rest of the fiscal year.

"Listen I understand that some of our members want to do more, but what is it in this bill they disagree with? Nothing. Nothing," Boehner said of the short-term extension.

In recent days a growing number of House Republicans have said they're opposed to the short-term bill that would fund the government another three weeks and cut $6 billion from current government spending. The House previously passed a spending plan for the rest of fiscal 2011 that would have cut around $60 billion from current spending levels, but it was opposed by Democrats as too excessive and defeated in the Senate.

Ohio Republican Rep. Jim Jordan, who heads a key bloc of fiscal conservatives, said Monday that he doesn't want to fund the government in "bite-sized pieces." Others including Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann and Indiana Rep. Mike Pence want so-called "policy riders" that were attached to a previous House-passed spending bill to be included, such as de-funding health care and Planned Parenthood.

Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York said Tuesday that such policy riders would kill a possible deal with Senate Democrats.

"I urge Speaker Boehner to consider the path to a solution to this year's budget that may not go through the Tea Party," Schumer said on the Senate floor. "He should consider moving on without them and forge a consensus among more moderate Republicans and a group of Democrats. Because if these extraneous policy items are going to be a must-have on the budget a compromise will be very, very, very hard to come by."

House debate before Tuesday's vote showed the deep divide on spending issues.

Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the No. 2 House Democrat, called the short-term extensions "a lousy way to run a railroad" and urged Republicans to offer a serious compromise plan.

Republican Rep. Mike Simpson of Idaho argued it was Democrats who brought about the problem by failing to pass a 2011 budget last year when they controlled both chambers of Congress and the White House.

"They left the American people and this country with this pile of crap," Simpson said in unusually colorful language for floor debate. "They should not complain about how we try to clean this up."

Boehner noted the three-week extension bill and a previous short-term bill would cut $10 billion in total from current spending levels. He called that figure a "small down payment" on a larger deal he believed could be reached soon on spending for the rest of the fiscal year.

"We're hopeful we'll have a long-term continuing resolution through September 30 and we're hopeful that we'll have it soon," Boehner said. However, he declined to give any details on how the two sides could achieve a compromise, and pressed the White House and Senate Democrats to come forward with a proposal.

Last week, the Senate rejected a Democratic bill that would cut more than $6 billion as well as the House-passed Republican bill that would cut another $57 billion from the non-military discretionary spending. Senate Democrats said those votes showed the need for compromise on both sides.

So far, Senate Democrats have proposed a total of $10.5 billion in cuts -- roughly the total amount included in the most recent short-term extension and the one under consideration this week.

"Why can't the Senate show us what they are capable of producing? I don't know what that number is," Boehner said. "When we get that number, we'll have a better opportunity to have real negotiations and a real conference on cutting spending, reducing the uncertainty and creating a better environment for job creation."

Republican Rep. Steven LaTourette, another Ohio legislator, also expressed frustration with Democrats.

"Now I know what all those people in St. Peter's Square must feel like when they are waiting for the white smoke to come out of the top of the dome for the election of a pope," LaTourette said. "We would like very much for the other side of this capitol to give us a proposal to negotiate with."

Hoyer, however, told reporters that Republicans now control the House and it was their turn to propose something.

"When you win you have a responsibility. We're waiting to hear what their next step is," Hoyer said.

But Hoyer said he opposed any more short-term funding bills, declaring: "We're not going to do $2 billion a week for the next 30 weeks. Period."

Congress faces several spending related issues, including authorizing funding for the rest of the current fiscal year, negotiating a federal budget for fiscal 2012 and raising the nation's debt limit in coming months.

Looking ahead to future battles over more spending cuts, Boehner warned the White House that Republicans won't allow negotiations over this year's spending bill to include talks over how to raise the nation's debt limit, and pushed for even more spending cuts to be linked to that vote later this spring.

"We're not going to increase the debt limit of the United States without real spending cuts and real changes to the way we spend the people's money," Boehner said.

Senate Democrats, meanwhile, have said they want negotiations over this year's spending bill to deal with entitlement reform and the debt limit.

According to a senior House Republican aide who attended Tuesday's regular weekly meeting of House Republicans, Boehner told his GOP colleagues that he views the battle over government spending in three separate phases -- the fight over current spending levels, the debate over next year's budget, and the vote on the debt limit.

Boehner made it clear that the debt limit vote would include some reforms, the aide said, suggesting that could include specific caps on discretionary spending for federal agencies, a proposal Republicans included in their campaign platform last fall.

Obama proposed a five-year freeze on discretionary spending in his budget proposal for next year.

CNN's Tom Cohen and Brianna Keilar contributed to this story.