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Lawmakers working on PPACA funding agreement

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(Bloomberg) — Congressional negotiators are working to settle final sticking points over military and health-care spending in a plan to finance the U.S. government and avoid a second shutdown in four months.

Current government funding runs out in a week, on Jan. 15.

Republican efforts to block the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) were at the center of a dispute that caused a 16-day government shutdown in October.

“We’re looking at narrowing the differences, looking at what’s the negotiation space and how we can compromise without capitulation on both sides,” Senate Appropriations Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., told reporters in Washington yesterday. Environmental rules also are among the final issues.

Top House and Senate appropriators met face-to-face yesterday for the first time this year. The encyclopedic spending bill would finance the government through Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year. Lawmakers are working from a December budget deal that set a spending total at about $1.01 trillion.

While the goal is to write spending bills covering all parts of the government, lawmakers also are discussing a backup plan to avoid a shutdown.

Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., the second-ranking House Democrat, said there has been talk of a short-term spending bill — perhaps covering a couple of days — “because they may not be able to get a deal done in time.”

Another option, which top appropriators say they want to avoid, would be to essentially keep current funding for some of the 12 sections of the spending bill. That would be a sign that even with an agreed spending target, Congress couldn’t do its job of funding the implementation of laws already on the books.

Negotiators are near agreement to fund implementation of PPACA, said Senator Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, chairman of the panel that sets spending for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

While there’s less appetite among congressional Republicans now to force a shutdown over Obamacare, they remain deeply opposed to the law. The House has voted to repeal it numerous times and scheduled votes on separate bills later this week that would address what they say are security problems with the law.

“We’re hopefully about to make a breakthrough on appropriations,” Harkin told reporters yesterday. “There’s a lot of impetus to do that.”

He said “a couple of” sticking points remained. “Hopefully in the next day or two or three those will get resolved,” Harkin said.

Since Republicans took control of the House three years ago, dividing control of Congress between Democrats and Republicans, the government has been funded almost exclusively through a series of stopgap spending measures.

HHS funding has been especially contentious. In 2007, three years before PPACA and when Democrats controlled both chambers of Congress, President George W. Bush vetoed a funding measure for HHS, education and labor. He said it spent too much money and was loaded with special-interest items.

–With assistance from Caitlin Webber, Roxana Tiron, Heidi Przybyla and James Rowley in Washington. Editors: Laurie Asseo, Robin Meszoly

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