US & Canada

Massive spending bill and tax plan passes US Congress

US Congress leaders on the Hill Image copyright EPA
Image caption President Obama has promised to sign the legislation

US congressional leaders have passed a $1.1 trillion (£730 billion) spending bill, avoiding a government shutdown.

The massive bill includes both Republican-backed initiatives and Democratic priorities.

The spending bill, passed in combination with a tax plan, easily made it through the House and Senate.

President Barack Obama has promised to sign the legislation, which includes spending increases for the National Institutes of Health and the military.

Republicans scored victories in the bill, including ending a decades-long ban on exporting US crude oil.

"The bipartisan compromise secures meaningful wins for Republicans and the American people," said Speaker of the House Paul Ryan.

Over the past few years, the budget has become a place of bitter fighting between Democrats and Republicans, becoming a tool to threaten a government shutdown if certain items are not included or excluded.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Both Democrats and Republicans cited victories in the massive spending bill

The government shut down for 16 days in 2013 when Congress could not agree on a budget. Passing a budget successfully marks an early victory for the newly elected House speaker.

Increased spending in the budget signals an end to Congressional belt-tightening. Members of Congress had said previously approved spending cuts were hurting the US military.

Members of the so-called Freedom Caucus had said they would not support the bill because, among other things, it does not deny funding to family planning clinic Planned Parenthood or tighten US screening of Syrian refugees.

The spending bill does include changes to the "visa waiver" programme that allows for travel without a visa to the US for 38 countries.

That includes France and Belgium, where some of the perpetrators of the deadly Paris attacks were from.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi had said she was concerned about the tax bill because of "special interest tax breaks".

Veterans and medical research receive spending boosts in the bill, along with funds for transportation projects and emergency first responders.

Two taxes that were meant to help finance President Obama's Affordable Care Act were delayed in the bill.

Passing the bill was the last thing on Congress' agenda before heading home for the holidays, adjourning until January.

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