US & Canada

Obama signs two-year cross-party budget bill

US President Barack Obama in Hawaii. Photo: 25 December 2013
Image caption President Obama signed the budget deal while holidaying in Hawaii

US President Barack Obama has signed a two-year bipartisan federal budget bill, averting the risk of a government shutdown in January.

The hard-fought legislation was passed by both the Senate and the House of Representatives earlier this month.

The bill had been drafted by a cross-party budget committee set up after October's 16-day government shutdown.

Mr Obama also signed a bill cracking down on a sexual assault in the military and six other bills.

He did so while holidaying in Hawaii at the end of the year that has seen a political gridlock over his signature healthcare law, the federal debt limit and issues ranging from immigration to gun control.

'Nothing written in stone'

Congress will now have until 15 January to pass a $1.012tn (£617bn) fiscal spending bill for 2014.

But any hopes that a new era of cross-party unity between Democrats and Republicans could be dawning in Washington DC may be premature, analysts say.

"This is a budget," Democratic Senator Carl Levin told reporters last week. "A budget could be amended next year. Nothing is written in stone around here."

The Senate's top four Republicans - who are in the minority in the upper chamber - voted earlier this month to block consideration of the budget bill. However, their opposition was seen as mainly symbolic and it is thought they knew the bill would ultimately go forward.

But the chamber's Republican leader hinted a separate brawl could lie ahead over the government's borrowing limit, which is due to be raised next spring.

"I doubt if the House, or for that matter the Senate, is willing to give the president a clean debt ceiling increase," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters.

"We'll have to see what the House insists on adding to it as a condition for passing it."

The bill aims to shave up to $23bn from the nation's $642bn annual budget deficit.

It also rolls back $63bn in military and domestic spending cuts automatically imposed in January when Democrats and Republicans failed to reach a budget compromise.

Democrats supported the measure even though they were unhappy that it did not extend long-term unemployment benefits for nearly 1.3 million Americans.

And members of both parties voiced disapproval of the bill's provision to cut inflation increases to pensions for military retirees under the age of 62.

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