U.S. spending bill in jeopardy as lawmakers bicker

by Reuters
Tuesday, 13 December 2011 18:42 GMT

* U.S. Republicans accuse Democrats of holding up bill

* Democrats say CFTC funding is still in question

* Temporary government funding bill expires Friday

WASHINGTON, Dec 13 (Reuters) - A bill that would keep the U.S. government operating beyond the weekend appeared in trouble on Tuesday as lawmakers bickered over whether they had resolved policy issues such as abortion funding and travel to Cuba.

The bill has been caught up in a year-end fight between Republicans and Democrats over taxes and spending that has left Americans watching a familiar scene unfold - both parties trying to outmaneuver the other to score points ahead of the 2012 elections.

Democrats are stalling on the spending bill to buy more time for negotiations on extending a payroll tax cut for 160 million Americans and unemployment benefits that are due to expire at the end of the year.

An administration official told Reuters President Barack Obama called Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a fellow Democrat, urging him not to let Congress pass the spending bill and go on holiday before there was agreement on extending the payroll tax cut and unemployment benefits.

The massive spending bill would fund major government functions, from protecting the environment to national security through next year.

If Congress fails to agree to a deal by this Friday, the government will no longer be able to fully operate - an event that lawmakers are trying to avoid after previous budget fights triggered a credit downgrade and the wrath of voters.

Republicans said on Monday they had reached an agreement with Democrats to fund the government until the fiscal year ends on Sept. 30, 2012.

But on Tuesday, Democrats said there were still major issues to be resolved, including abortion funding, funding for the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, coal reclamation, energy-efficient light bulbs and Cuba travel, according to a senior Democratic aide.

House Republicans left a meeting with their leadership on Tuesday accusing Reid of deliberately holding up action on the bill to extract concessions on the payroll tax cut bill. The parties differ sharply over how to fund the ${esc.dollar}120 billion cost of the tax cut.

"Quit holding it hostage. Let us do our work," Republican Representative Mike Simpson, said.

House Democratic whip Steny Hoyer said Democrats were concerned Republicans would bolt once the spending bill was passed in the House and would not stick around to pass the payroll tax bill and other important measures. (Reporting By Rachelle Younglai, Richard Cowan, Donna Smith, Thomas Ferraro; Editing by Ross Colvin and John O'Callaghan)

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