"A Complete Rout"

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WASHINGTON: A third federal government shutdown was narrowly averted when the White House and Congressional Republicans reached a temporary spending agreement to keep the government operating until March 15. The House moved to pass the legislation today, and Senate approval is expected Friday, just hours before the current temporary funding measure is set to run out. "The budget negotiations have been a complete rout for the Republicans," says Congressional correspondent Karen Tumulty. "It looks like they are now content to just continue to make temporary funding deals and put off the big, fundamental questions about restructuring government until after the November elections. As Sam Brownback told me today, 'Instead of going for the long bomb, let's grind it out on the ground.'" The next big hurdle for negotiators: reaching an agreement on extending federal borrowing authority past the March 1 deadline set by Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin. Markets and Congressional negotiators trembled Wednesday when Moody's threatened to downgrade its rating of $387 billion in U.S. bonds because it said the budget impasse had 'significantly increased the risk of a default.' Urged on by House Speaker Newt Gingrich's offer to make a "down payment" on reaching a budget deal, Tumulty reports that even hard-line House Freshmen appear ready to make a deal. "The threat of not extending the debt ceiling was going to be their last hurrah, and it now looks like the Republicans are going to make a deal to extend that."