WASHINGTON — The Senate last week rejected partisan alternatives to funding the government for the rest of the 2011 fiscal year and will likely need another short-term spending bill to keep federal agencies running.
Congress is expected to take up a stopgap measure this week to fund federal agencies for the rest of the month.
The current short-term spending bill expires Friday, leaving nonessential services vulnerable to shutdown.
Passage of a two-week "continuing resolution" last week was aimed at buying time for congressional leaders to reach a deal with the Obama administration on legislation to fund the government through September, the end of the 2011 fiscal year.
No compromise was reached, and the Senate rejected both Republican and Democratic alternatives, setting the stage for further talks to adopt a budget for the 2011 fiscal year.
A Republican plan to cut more than $60 billion from current-year spending failed on a 44-56 vote. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., voted against it. Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., voted for the plan.
A Democratic alternative to trim $6.5 billion from current-year spending failed on a 42-58 vote, with 11 members of the Democratic caucus joining Republicans in opposition. Reid voted for the alternative. Ensign opposed it.
Patent reform approved
The Senate easily approved a bill to revamp the nation’s nearly 60-year-old patent system. Proponents claim the update will boost the economy and create jobs.
Under the bill, the United States would adopt a "first-inventor-to-file" system for patent applications that is used by every other industrialized nation.
The bill, which was approved 95-5, now goes to the House.
Reid voted for it. Ensign opposed it.
Home refinance program
House Republicans voted in near unanimity to end a program designed to help people refinance homes that are worth less than they paid for them.
The bill, which passed 256-171, would terminate the Federal Housing Administration Refinance Program established by President Barack Obama.
The program encourages mortgage holders to refinance "underwater" loans by offering federal guarantees against default.
Rep. Spencer Bachus, R-Ala., who chairs the House Financial Services Committee, said the FHA program is a "poster child" for ineffective government programs.
He noted that only 44 mortgages had been refinanced under the program that is backed by $8.1 billion from the 2008 Troubled Asset Relief Program.
Democrats countered that the FHA program, which is still in its early stages, could help hundreds of thousands of homeowners who need mortgage relief.
Democrats also noted that only a fraction of the $8.1 billion actually would be used to pay for refinanced loans that end up in default.
The Congressional Budget Office estimated that ending the program would reduce the deficit by $175 million.
Eighteen Democrats voted to kill the program. Only one Republican, Nevada Rep. Joe Heck, voted to keep it.
Contact Stephens Washington Bureau reporter Peter Urban at email@example.com or 202-783-1760.