Congress conquers budget impass

PERHAPS it was the urge among members to get out of Dodge in time to buy Christmas gifts, but something last night had inspired the US Congress to overcome months of bipartisan ankle-biting and reach a compromise deal on federal spending for the new fiscal year.

Officials expressed optimism that a $1 trillion spending bill would win approval in both chambers yesterday. The real motivating factor, however, had been the threat - yet again - of a shutdown of the federal government.

"In spite of many unnecessary obstacles, it is good to see that responsible leadership and good governance can triumph," said Harold Rogers, a Republican from Kentucky, after members of the House Appropriations Committee, which he chairs, reached a deal.

Loose ends remained on Capitol Hill, however, with an agreement still eluding lawmakers on a separate bill to extend a payroll tax holiday, which is the only part of President Barack Obama's most recent job-creation plan with any chance of actually becoming law. The hoped-for measure would also ensure the continuing extension of federal benefits for the long-term unemployed.

Republicans want to tag on a demand that the White House approve a vast oil pipeline project that would link fields in Canada to refineries in Louisiana. Conservatives think they have a vote-winner in excoriating Mr Obama for standing in the way of a project that could generate thousands of jobs and reduce dependency on foreign oil. But some kind of muddled deal was likely, officials suggested, even if Congress manages to extend the benefits and the payroll tax cut for two months instead of a full year.

"Thereis momentum building toward a comprehensive agreement, but still there are a lot of pieces to put together," said Senator Max Baucus, who is leading negotiations for the Democrats.

The spending bill provides funding for most of the federal government, including the Pentagon, although excludes overseas wars. The total amount of $US1.043 trillion is in line with a debt- ceiling deal struck in August.