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Government will stay afloat, GOP leader says

Associated Press / December 20, 2010

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WASHINGTON — Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said yesterday that he and the Democratic leader have agreed on a spending measure to keep the government running through March.

Passing the bill would prevent the government from running out of money for daily operations and forcing a shutdown.

McConnell of Kentucky said on CNN’s “State of the Union’’ that he and Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada reached a deal on the measure. The budget year began Oct. 1 but Congress hasn’t passed any of its annual spending bills.

Democrats pulled back a $1.3 trillion spending bill last week after Republicans decided not to support it. Republicans complained about special projects in the bill, its overall cost, and the lack of time for debate.

Also yesterday, backers of a bill in Congress to help people who became sick after working in the World Trade Center dust created by the Sept. 11 attacks said they are optimistic the Senate will approve the measure before the lame-duck session ends.

“We are on the verge of a Christmas miracle,’’ said Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a New York Democrat.

Gillibrand and Senator Chuck Schumer, also a Democrat from New York, are offering a less-costly alternative to the original bill to aid 9/11 responders and survivors, saying that they believe it will gain the necessary support from the GOP. They said the Senate was expected to consider the new bill once it finishes dealing with the US-Russia treaty on nuclear weapons.

“Barring a setback, we believe we are on the path to victory by the end of the week,’’ Schumer said.

Supporters were three votes short of the 60 votes they needed for the original bill on a recent Senate test vote. Reid, the Democratic leader, switched his vote to “no’’ at the last moment, a parliamentary move that allows him to bring the measure up again for a vote.

The House has passed the original bill but would have to consider any new version as the final days of the lame-duck session wear down.