CAPITOL HILL (From CBS News) The House of Representatives on Thursday passed a bipartisan spending agreement that will prevent a government shutdown, voting 329-91 on a measure to keep the government funded through March. Still, the representatives punted on the most difficult questions facing Washington until after the elections.
The six-month spending measure, an all-inclusive funding bill that covers domestic and foreign spending obligations, will last through March and fund the government at the rate of $1.047 trillion for the year. It will now move to the Senate, where it is expected to pass next week.
Congress, however, avoided the complicated debate of the pending "fiscal cliff" - $600 billion of automatic budget cuts and tax increases - as they are itching to get out of Washington to campaign for reelection.
Instead, the debate is left until after the elections during a "lame duck" session, in which even lawmakers who have been defeated return to Washington to finish their terms and tie up loose ends. Economists agree that going over the "fiscal cliff" would have a devastating impact on the economy, including increased unemployment and a possible downgrade of the government's debt.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said earlier in the week that he is "not confident at all" that Congress can reach an agreement before the New Year on the automatic across-the-board budget cuts on defense and non-defense spending, the so-called "sequester" cuts that make up one component of the fiscal cliff.
"We have to acknowledge the job that has to be done. We must have an agreement. And then we engineer back from there how we get this done," House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said Thursday, pushing back on Boehner's statement.
Tea Party-backed freshman Rep. Allen West, R-Florida, who came to Congress pushing for a smaller government, said on the House floor Thursday that Congress must deal with the pending budget cuts that deal impact defense.
"We should not be doing this at a time when we all see what is happening in the world right now. The message we are going to send is we are going to do nothing," West said. "Mr. President, you are the commander in chief. Come up with a plan."
Meanwhile, the budget stop-gap measure that passed the House Thursday is the result of Congress's inability to pass 12 individual funding bills.
The subsequent bill, which encompasses the entire federal budget, includes a .06 percent across-the-board spending increase. Actual funding, however, is $26.2 billion less than last year's spending bill, mostly because of a reduction in war spending.
It is also more than the $1.028 trillion budget vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan released earlier this year and which the House passed. Despite the higher spending amount, however, Ryan returned from the presidential campaign trail to vote for the measure.