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House passes bill to fund government

WASHINGTON -- Legislation easily passed the U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday to avert another partisan budget battle and a possible government shutdown, as President Barack Obama also opened new lines of communication with Republicans.

By a vote of 267-151, the House passed a measure to fund government programs up until the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30. The Democratic-controlled Senate is expected to pass a similar bill next week.

Without such legislation federal agencies would run out of money on March 27.

The bill to continue funding the government without last-minute drama came as Obama took the unusual step of inviting Republican senators to dinner Wednesday night at a Washington hotel a few blocks from the White House.

In another bipartisan gesture, Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said that at his suggestion, Obama will join Republicans for a lunch on Capitol Hill on March 14.

The meetings, whether or not they produce results, depart from what has been an at best stand-offish relationship between Obama and Congress.

They suggest that Obama and Republicans are getting the message that public patience with Washington is wearing thin, particularly as Americans read of inconveniences they may soon confront at airports and elsewhere as a result of across-the-board cuts to the federal budget that kicked in Friday after lawmakers and the White House failed to agree on an alternative.

"This is the first indication in really a long time that the president is willing to exert leadership and bring people together and that's exactly what needs to be done," said Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine, who has spoken by phone in recent days with Obama.