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Why House vote for short-term spending bill is important (+video)

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(Read caption) Congress close to budget deal compromise
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The House on Thursday approved a short-term funding bill that will pay for the operations of the US government through this September, the end of the 2013 fiscal year. The Senate had approved the bill Wednesday, meaning it has cleared Congress and now goes to President Obama, who has promised to sign it when he gets back from the Middle East.

Whew! Stop the presses! (Or in today’s digital journalism maybe we should say “stop the servers!”) Washington has just accomplished something many voters may have thought wasn’t possible: It has avoided a partisan budget battle. On purpose.

Yes, you might think that lawmakers today are fighting bitterly over fiscal matters. And in some ways they are. The House floor this week rang with arguments about fiscal 2014 budget outlines. On Thursday the GOP-controlled chamber also passed Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s budget plan, which aims to balance the nation’s books in a decade by sharply cutting safety-net programs and curtailing government agency spending.

But that’s about next year and the magical “out years” beyond. Those are far off and safer to dispute. The short-term funding bill is different. As we noted, it’s for 2013. In other words, it’s about what happens right now.

Here’s why the huge $984 billion short-term 2013 bill, also known as the “continuing resolution,” is notable.

The government stays open. The continuing resolution authorizes discretionary federal spending for the next six months. If Congress had not approved it by March 27, when the current CR expires, government agencies would have had to shut down. That’s happened before, of course, most notably in 1995 when then-Speaker Newt Gingrich and President Bill Clinton went toe to toe. But now neither party wants such a showdown. Agreement on the CR shows Washington can actually run the country when a real deadline looms.

The sequester gets locked in – and softened. Remember "the sequester"? It’s been almost four weeks since those automatic budget cuts kicked in due to congressional disagreement over other ways to reduce the US deficit.

The White House is still closed to tours. Airport security lines are longer. Acadia National Park in Maine will open a month late, and so forth.

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