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Senate vote averts shutdown for three weeks

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

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

The outcome of Thursday'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 incorporates their policy priorities -- including defunding President Obama's health care law and eliminating support for Planned Parenthood.

"This is a bad omen," Sen. Charles E. 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.

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.

House Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, was able to pass the bill in his chamber this week only with the help of Democratic votes -- which Democrats interpret to mean they will have more influence over the final package.

Republicans have said Democrats and the White House have not offered alternative spending plans in negotiations.

With the two sides $50 billion apart, a middle ground could look similar to the estimated $30 billion in cuts Republican leaders first proposed, before their tea-party activists and freshman rank-and-file pressed for more. But such a compromise appears far off.

Once Obama signs the latest measure, both sides indicated, the next step is reaching a long-term resolution to fund the government through this fiscal year, which will end Sept. 30. Neither side wants another stopgap.

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