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US Senate passes budget agreement to end government shutdown

The vote was earlier blocked by Republican senator Rand Paul.

The US Senate has passed a bipartisan budget agreement and spending bill to reopen the shuttered federal government.

The bill now moves to the House of Representatives.

Senators voted 71-28 to approve the deal, overcoming objections from Republican fiscal conservatives who say the bill marks a return to unchecked deficit spending.

The bill stalled in the Senate on Thursday night when one of the opponents, Republican Rand Paul, refused to allow a speedy vote.

Mr Paul’s protest forced Congress to miss a midnight deadline for passing a funding measure to keep the government operating.

The shutdown was the second in two weeks.

The 400 billion US dollar (£286 billion) budget agreement is married to a six-week temporary funding bill needed to keep the government operating and to provide time to implement the budget pact.

Mr Paul brushed off the pressure, saying: “I didn’t come up here to be part of somebody’s club. I didn’t come up here to be liked.”

The underlying bill includes huge spending increases sought by Republicans for the Pentagon along with a big boost demanded by Democrats for domestic agencies.

Both sides pressed for 89 billion US dollar (£64 billion) for disaster relief, extending a host of healthcare provisions, and extending a slew of smaller tax breaks.

It also would increase the government’s debt cap, preventing a first-ever default on US obligations that looms in a few weeks.

House leaders hustled to move before federal employees were due back at work, hoping to minimise the disruption. A shutdown essentially cuts the federal workforce in half, with those dubbed non-essential not allowed to work. Military and essential workers would remain on the job regardless.

The Trump administration signalled it expected the shutdown to be short, calling it a “lapse”.

As the clock hit midnight, Office of Management and Budget director Mick Mulvaney immediately issued an order to close non-essential government operations.

Mr Mulvaney told federal agencies they should execute their contingency plans and instructed federal employees to report to work on Friday to “undertake orderly shutdown activities”.

At the White House, there appeared to be little sense of concern. Aides closed shop early on Thursday night, with no comment on the display on the Hill. The president did not tweet.

Vice President Mike Pence, in South Korea for the Winter Olympics, said the administration was “hopeful” the shutdown would not last long.

But frustrations were clear in both sides of the Capitol, where just hours earlier leaders had been optimistic that the budget deal was a sign they had left behind some of their chronic dysfunction.

Senate Democrats sparked a three-day partial government shutdown last month by filibustering a spending bill, seeking relief for “Dreamer” immigrants who have lived in the country illegally since they were children.

House GOP leaders said they were confident they had shored up support among conservatives for the measure, which would shower the Pentagon with money but add hundreds of billions of dollars to the nation’s 20 trillion-plus US dollars (£14 trillion) debt.

Press Association

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