- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 7, 2009

Congress Friday approved a temporary spending measure to keep the government open through Wednesday as lawmakers struggled to pass an omnibus appropriations bill for the remainder of the fiscal year.

The House passed the bill by a 328-50 vote; the Senate acted by unanimous voice vote. President Barack Obama was slated to sign the measure later Friday.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, said the chamber would continue to work through a large number of proposed amendments to the $410 billion spending package, with hopes of wrapping up work by Monday or Tuesday. Mr. Reid acknowledged Thursday night he was one vote short of the 60 he needs to cut off debate and allow a final roll-call vote.

The new “continuing resolution” keeps spending levels essentially at the previous fiscal year’s limits. The resolution was needed because funding for more than a dozen Cabinet-level departments and agencies was set to expire at midnight.

Senate Republicans insisted on offering at least a dozen more amendments that Mr. Reid said he would “work hard to defeat.” There are also Democrats who object to the more than 9,000 member-directed earmarks in the omnibus bill, despite President Obama’s stated intention to limit “pork” provisions in appropriations bills.

Other hot-button issues in the massive bill include a measure to ease travel and other restrictions on Cuba and a proposal that could end public funding for charter schools in the District.

Despite Mr. Obama’s oft-stated dislike of earmarks for spending and the ways of Washington, the White House said it would not take a stand against the projects because the legislation originated under the previous administration and therefore represents the final Bush budget bill.

The House has already approved the spending bill, and Mr. Reid hopes to defeat all the Republican amendments so that the bill can go right to President Obama after the Senate approves it.

The Republican amendments shot down Thursday included a move to ban U.S. dollars going to a U.N. family planning program that critics say promotes abortion, one of more than a dozen Bush administration policies being erased in the omnibus spending bill.

The Senate vote is so close that Mr. Reid said he was setting up next week’s schedule to give ailing Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, “ample time” to come to the Capitol. After a long absence, Mr. Kennedy returned to Washington this week but is still receiving treatment for brain cancer.