Senate Nears Deal on Funding Bill

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The Wall Street Journal
By: Jessica Holzer & Patrick O'Connor
December 20, 2010

WASHINGTON -The Senate moved ahead Sunday night on a deal to fund the federal government through March 4, setting the stage for a budget fight early next year, when Republicans will wield more power.

Congress has failed to pass legislation to fund the government for the full fiscal year that began Oct. 1, relying instead on several short-term measures. The most recent one expires on Tuesday, and a failure by Congress to approve new funding by then could lead to a government shut-down.

On Sunday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) arranged for a Tuesday vote on a plan to fund the government through early March.

Democrats wanted to approve funding for the full fiscal year, through next September. But Republicans wanted a shorter extension. They intend to propose spending cuts when the new Congress convenes next year.

Under the Senate deal set on Sunday, funding for most federal agencies and departments would continue at levels authorized for fiscal year 2010, though some programs would see slight increases. Overall, funding would be about $1.2 billion above the levels authorized in last year's budget. The House would also have to approve the spending measure.

Left unclear is whether lawmakers will approve money to start implementing President Barack Obama's new health-care law and to add staff at two regulatory agencies that were given new oversight responsibilities under this year's Dodd-Frank financial-services regulatory law.

Money for those functions was included in a $1.1 trillion spending bill that Democrats were backing to fund the government for nine months. But that legislation failed last week amid Republican opposition.

Also on Sunday, the Senate passed a food-safety bill that had been approved last month then became tangled in a technical snafu. A Senate aide said the bill must still go to the House, which also is expected to approve it

The bill would require the FDA to conduct routine inspections of food production facilities, give the agency authority to force companies to recall contaminated products, and set stricter sanitary standards on imported food.

--Naftali Bendavid and Bill Tomson contributed to this article.
Write to Jessica Holzer at jessica.holzer@dowjones.com

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