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Lawmakers prepare stop-gap funding as clock runs down on spending bill

Morning breaks over the U.S. Capitol as the federal government reopens after a 16-day shutdown, in Washington, October 17, 2013. REUTERS/Jon
Morning breaks over the U.S. Capitol as the federal government reopens after a 16-day shutdown, in Washington, October 17, 2013. REUTERS/Jon

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. lawmakers are preparing a stop-gap spending measure ahead of a new federal government shutdown deadline next week as talks on the $1 trillion U.S. spending legislation move slowly.

The temporary measure, known as a "continuing resolution," would keep government agencies funded through the end of next week, instead of allowing all spending authority to expire at midnight on January 15, Senate and House of Representatives aides said on Thursday.

After vowing that they would complete the massive spending bill on time, House and Senate appropriations committees are still trying to resolve disputes over funding and policy provisions attached to the measure, the aides said.

The "omnibus" measure, which combines 12 normal spending bills and includes thousands of budget line items for everything from national parks to weapons development programs, may not be ready for consideration by Congress until the weekend, Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski said on Tuesday.

That could leave too little time ahead of the January 15 dealine to complete often lengthy procedural steps in the Senate. A House Republican aide said that the time needed for Senate passage was the primary reason for the stop-gap funding measure.

"We're working hard," said Representative Jack Kingston, a Georgia Republican who chairs the labor and health subcommittee on the House Appropriations panel.

Lawmakers declined to divulge specific details on the remaining unresolved disputes, but said progress was being made. One area that has caused delays is the funding for implementation of "Obamacare" health insurance reforms.

Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa, a Democrat who chairs the Senate Appropriations labor and health subcommittee, said he hopes those differences will be resolved soon.

"I think we're close. It's just, we're working out some language right now," Harkin told reporters.

The spending bill is needed to complete a two-year budget deal that was reached in December and avoid a repeat of the 16-day shutdown of government agencies in October that was prompted largely by disputes over Obamacare funding.

The measure is aimed at easing automatic, "sequester" spending cuts by providing an additional $45 billion in funding for fiscal 2014, evenly split between military and domestic programs.

(Reporting By David Lawder; editing by Andrew Hay)

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