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Long-term federal budget solution elusive

Chicago Tribune

WASHINGTON -- The Senate overwhelmingly passed another stopgap spending measure yesterday to prevent a government shutdown today, but increasing conservative opposition is making the task of negotiating a lasting deal complicated for Republican leaders.

Congress has three more weeks before the country is again at risk of a halt in government services. Talks continue behind the scenes on a long-term budget solution.

The outcome of yesterday's vote paralleled the mood earlier this week in the House, as conservative Republicans voted against the measure in greater numbers.

Many Republicans are steadfast in their refusal to support the legislation unless it includes their policy priorities -- including defunding President Barack Obama's health-care law and eliminating support for Planned Parenthood.

"This is a bad omen," Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said before the vote. The resistance from conservatives, he said, makes a long-term deal between leaders more difficult. "An intense ideological tail continues to wag the dog," he said.

The Senate voted 87-13 to approve the measure to fund the government through April 8, while cutting $6 billion. Nine Republicans voted against the bill, up from the five who opposed a previous short-term measure this month. Four Democrats also opposed it, the same number as earlier.

Cuts will continue at $2 billion a week, the level preferred by the Republicans but opposed by many Democrats. The legislation was designed to appeal to Democrats by making the reductions in programs and services already identified by Obama for termination.

At the same time, it was not lost on lawmakers that among the cuts was the elimination of $17 million for the International Fund for Ireland -- on St. Patrick's Day, as the Irish prime minister was welcomed at an annual lunch.

In supporting the temporary measure, Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) argued that by including the reductions in a previously approved stopgap bill, Congress would be cutting $10 billion in five weeks. "All in all, a good day's work," Kyl said.

The votes this week have made it increasingly clear that the divisions among Republicans will set the stage for the talks on a long-term solution.

In the House, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) was able to pass the bill only with the help of Democratic votes. Democrats interpret that to mean they will have more influence over the final package.

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