U.S. House passes bill to avert government shutdown, extend Export-Import bank

By David Lawder WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday approved a stop-gap spending measure that averts an Oct. 1 government shutdown and extends the U.S. Export-Import Bank's ability to operate for another nine months. The measure, passed 319-108 with opposition evenly split between Republicans and Democrats, also contains a separately approved authorization for the Defense Department to train and arm moderate Syrian rebels to fight Islamic State militants. The bill, which now moves to the Senate for consideration on Thursday, extends current funding levels for discretionary government programs and agencies through Dec. 16. This will allow lawmakers time to sort out a longer-term spending measure when they return to Washington after the Nov. 4 mid-term elections. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid objected to Republican calls for a separate Senate vote on the Syrian rebel provision now contained in the funding measure. He said he would present a single "up or down vote on what we get from the House of Representatives. We cannot have another government shutdown." The temporary spending extension also provides $88 million to help fight the Ebola epidemic in Africa, including $58 million to speed production of the ZMapp antiviral drug and two vaccine candidates, as well as $30 million for additional staff and supplies at the Centers for Disease Control. The extension of the Export-Import Bank's charter through June 30, 2015, puts off any decisions about the trade finance agency's future and allows its conservative Republican opponents more time to build a case to close or reform the 80-year-old institution. The House rejected a last-minute attempt by Democrats to push through a seven-year extension for the Ex-Im Bank. A similar effort by a group of Senate Democrats is unlikely to be considered on Thursday, a senior Democratic Senate aide said. The House-passed measure maintains discretionary spending at the fiscal 2014 annual rate of $1.012 trillion and leaves the Pentagon's overseas contingency budget for war operations unchanged at an $85 billion annual rate. This is well above the Obama administration's request of $58.6 billion for fiscal 2015, leaving ample funding capacity for President Barack Obama's air campaign against Islamic State fighters. Money for the Syrian rebel training effort can be shifted from these accounts with permission from certain Congressional committees. It also includes a provision allowing funding flexibility for border security and customs agencies to maintain staffing levels, border patrols, detention space and immigration enforcement activities. The measure extends to Dec. 11 the Internet Tax Freedom Act, which bars state and local governments from taxing Internet access and was due to expire on Nov. 1. (Reporting by David Lawder; Editing by Eric Walsh and Jim Loney)