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US government shutdown averted with 11th-hour backing for stop-gap spending bill

The US Senate has left it late to back legislation averting a government shutdown as coal-state Democrats retreated on long-term health care benefits for retired miners, but promised a renewed fight for the working class next year.

With less than hour to spare, the vote was 63-36, sending the stop-gap spending bill to President Barack Obama for his signature ahead of a midnight deadline.

It came hours after Democrats dropped threats to block the measure in hopes of using the shutdown deadline to try to win a one-year respite for 16,500 miners facing the loss of health care benefits at the end of the year.

Instead, the legislation provides benefits at a cost of 45 million dollars (£36 million) for four months.

Democrats evoked President-elect Donald Trump, a hero in coal country, in pressing for more benefits, b ut Republicans were unrelenting - and had already vacated the Capitol for a three-week holiday - forcing Democrats to concede.

Joe Manchin, senator of West Virginia, a potential member of the Trump cabinet, led the fight by coal-state Democrats.

He acknowledged he did not have the votes to block the bill, but said "the fight will continue" next year.

"I'm born into a family of coal miners. If I'm not going to stand up for them, who is?" he said to reporters.

The fight gave Democrats, who suffered devastating election losses a month ago at the hands of working-class voters, a chance to cast themselves as the champion of the common man.

Mr Manchin was joined by other coal-state Democrats who face re-election in 2018 in states Mr Trump won last month, including Pennsylvania and Ohio.

The dispute over health benefits, and a separate fight over controversial legislation to shift more of California's scarce water resources to inland farmers, were the final battles of a two-year session marked by constant quarrelling. It was capped by a burst of productivity on legislation to authorise hundreds of water projects, repair a lead-tainted water system in Flint, Michigan, and keep the government running through to April.

Congress will take a break before reconvening on January 3 to get a swift start on repealing key elements of the Affordable Care Act and confirming Mr Trump's cabinet.

The underlying funding bill would keep the government running through to April 28 to buy time for the incoming administration and Congress to wrap up more than 1 trillion dollars in unfinished agency budget work.

It also provides war funding, disaster aid for Louisiana and other states, and an expedited process for considering Mr Trump's nominee for defence secretary, retired General James Mattis.

AP

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