Senate passes bill to fund government; House has until midnight to prevent shutdown

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WASHINGTON (CNN) – The House of Representatives has until midnight to prevent the government from shutting down.

On Wednesday, the Senate voted overwhelmingly to keep the government funded through Dec. 11.

The bill passed 78 to 20 and now goes to the House, which must act before midnight to prevent a shutdown.

Negotiations  to create a longer-term government funding bill, an increase in the debt ceiling, approval of new funds for highway construction, passage of expiring tax provisions are expected to begin “very soon” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday.

However, it remains to be seen if those talks will be successful amid political friction.

Last week, McConnell insisted that Democratic leaders not be allowed at the table, a demand President Obama refused to accept.

A spokesman for McConnell wouldn’t comment on why he wanted to bar Democrats from the talks.

News of the anticipated but long-awaited talks came days after House Speaker John Boehner, a known dealmaker, complicated the process by announcing he would leave Congress at the end of October.

It was not clear what impact his sudden departure would have on what will be his final major budget negotiation.

“I don’t want to leave my successor a dirty barn. I want to clean the barn up a little bit before the next person gets there,” Boehner said.

McConnell said he had “no earthly idea” how much work would be completed before Boehner leaves.

“We are going to have to deal with all of these issues between now and December 11,” McConnell said. “How much of that could come together before Speaker Boehner leaves, I have no earthly idea.”

At issue in the negotiations is how much to spend on the government operations.

Many Republicans want to break existing budget caps to increase spending for defense while most Democrats want to break the caps to increase funding for domestic programs. But the conservatives in the House say they want to rein in government spending and don’t want to break the caps at all.

McConnell said one of his biggest priorities in the talks will be to set a top line spending figure for this year and 2016, which would allow Congress to carry out a normal appropriations process next year. Washington has run on “continuing resolutions” for some time, which don’t allow Congress to make changes to the way money is spent or to alter policies within government agencies.

“Let us at least be honest. With a continuing resolution, no waste will be cut. No spending will be cut. No regulations will be stopped. And the debt will continue to mount,” Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul said in a floor speech explaining why he would vote against the continuing resolution.

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