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House Republicans voice support for $1.1 trillion spending bill

U.S. Representative Darrell Issa (R-CA) talks to reporters as he departs a House Republican caucus meeting at the U.S. Capitol in Washington
U.S. Representative Darrell Issa (R-CA) talks to reporters as he departs a House Republican caucus meeting at the U.S. Capitol in Washington

By David Lawder

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Republicans in the House of Representatives voiced tentative support on Tuesday for a $1.1 trillion spending bill, signaling likely passage and removing one source of potential drama ahead of the 2014 elections.

The 1,582-page measure provides a $45 billion increase in military and domestic spending to ease automatic "sequester" budget cuts and about $85 billion in Afghanistan war funding this fiscal year.

It is scheduled for a vote in the Republican-controlled House on Wednesday, and consideration later this week by the Democratic-controlled Senate.

The House on Tuesday approved by voice vote a stop-gap measure to extend current funding for three days past a midnight Wednesday deadline to allow more time for passage of the "omnibus" spending bill.

Enactment will eliminate through September 30 the threat of another government shutdown like the 16-day standoff in October that caused the public's opinion of Congress to plumb new depths in polls.

The bill adds funding for some Democratic priorities such as a $1 billion increase in the Head Start pre-school education program for the poor, but Republicans scored a partial victory when negotiators denied a funding increase for implementation of "Obamacare" health insurance reforms.

Republicans also succeeded in denying funds for high-speed rail projects and for International Monetary Fund reforms. The bill also contains a provision to ensure that the government can continue efforts to dispose of nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain in Nevada.

Republicans won a provision blocking the Department of Energy from enforcing a phase-out of less-efficient incandescent light bulbs, but Democrats beat back their attempt to prohibit the Environmental Protection Agency from enacting new regulations on carbon emissions.

"It's not a perfect bill from either side, but I think it's a bill that the president can live with and that Republicans and Democrats can also live with," said Republican Representative Darrell Issa of California.

He predicted that measure would get a "large majority" of Republicans, as well as a majority of Democrats. He added that it was important to settle government funding to avoid it becoming a campaign issue in this year's congressional elections.

Republican Representative Tim Griffin, a conservative with Tea Party backing from Arkansas, said the bill represents "solid progress" on reducing discretionary spending. He said it should win support from many conservatives because the overall spending level is lower than at the end of the Bush administration in 2008 and below the levels called for in last year's Republican budget plan from House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan.

But influential conservative groups including the Heritage Foundation and Club for Growth wasted no time in urging lawmakers to oppose the spending bill, citing continued funding for Obamacare and other programs they regard as wasteful.

"Instead of finding bipartisan ways to spend more money, Congress should be focused on cutting spending so that the federal budget can be balanced as quickly as possible," Club for Growth said in a statement.

The second-ranking House Democrat, Representative Steny Hoyer, said he would support the spending bill despite concerns over inadequate funding.

While it's better than the $967 billion level that was slated under the sequester cuts, the $1.012 trillion in non-war spending is "less than necessary to grow our economy," Hoyer told reporters.

The White House said it would support passage of the measure because it would help boost the economy.

Among provisions touted by both parties, the spending bill reverses a pension benefit cut for disabled veterans that lawmakers said was mistakenly included in a previous budget deal. It also provides a $417 million boost to wildland firefighting efforts.

DEBT LIMIT LOOMS

Passage of the spending bill would leave Congress just one major fiscal hurdle for the next nine months, an increase in the federal debt limit that is expected to be needed by March or April to avoid a damaging default on U.S. debt.

U.S. House Speaker John Boehner said that Republicans have made no decisions on how to approach the debt limit, which Republicans have used as a bargaining chip to demand further deficit reduction.

Last October, disputes over Obamacare funding were also thrown into the debt limit fight, which coincided with a 16-day government shutdown. Resolution of the shutdown helped pave the way for the December budget deal and the spending bill.

"We have to deal with the debt ceiling here in the coming months and no decisions have been made about how we're going to proceed but I'm encouraged that we are going to proceed," Boehner told a news briefing. "No one wants to default on our debt."

(Editing by David Gregorio and James Dalgleish)

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