House approves $1.3 trillion spending bill 256-167, sends to Senate for vote

WASHINGTON, March 22 (Reuters) - The U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday approved a $1.3 trillion spending bill to avert a government shutdown and fund federal agencies through Sept. 30, sending the measure to the Senate ahead of a midnight Friday deadline.

The Republican-led chamber backed the measure 256-167 despite opposition from some conservatives worried about its massive deficit spending. It now goes to the Senate, which is expected to vote late on Thursday or Friday, before current government funding expires at midnight on Friday.

The White House has signaled President Donald Trump will sign the bill, which significantly boosts funding for defense but scales back spending requests on some of his other priorities.

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Coupled with recently enacted tax cuts, the bill is projected to lead to budget deficits of more than $800 billion for this year. Conservatives have balked at the deficit spending, which could create some political difficulties for Republicans running for re-election in November.

Passage of the spending bill would end several months of intense bickering between Republicans and Democrats over spending priorities, which led to two short government shutdowns earlier this year.

It also would include setbacks for Trump, who did not receive all of the funding he requested at one point in the negotiations for the southern border wall and whose proposals for severe cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency, State Department and other federal agencies also would be scaled back.

Democrats complained that in the rush to pass the bill, few if any lawmakers had time to read through the 2,232-page tome to see what it actually contained.

The bill was unveiled late on Wednesday. Senate No. 2 Republican John Cornyn said his chamber could take it up on Thursday night if no senator acts to slow it.

Trump said on Twitter the bill will allow him to start building a wall on the U.S. border with Mexico. "Got $1.6 Billion to start Wall on Southern Border, rest will be forthcoming," he wrote.

But Democrats argued the added funds will help build or restore a range of other barriers, including existing fencing, and would not pay for a concrete edifice that Trump originally said would be financed by Mexico - a claim the Mexican government has denounced.

"The president supports this bill. There's no two ways about it," U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan told reporters at a news conference ahead of the vote, adding he had walked the president through the plan's "contours."

Asked about Trump's reaction to the $1.6 billion for the border, Ryan said, "He was happy with that." (Additional reporting by Amanda Becker and Susan Heavey Writing by John Whitesides Editing by Bernadette Baum and Bill Trott)

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