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Congressional gridlock holds firm

With the economy sputtering, the warring factions of Congress headed toward gridlock Thursday night over the typically noncontroversial steps of delivering disaster aid or even keeping the government from shutting down.

Senate Democrats signaled that they'll reject a House move to try to force a smaller aid package upon them and partially pay for it with cuts to programs that Democrats insist create jobs. A top Senate aide revealed the strategy on condition of anonymity.

The battle erupting on Capitol Hill sends a discouraging sign as a bitterly divided Washington looks ahead to more significant debates on President Obama's jobs plan and efforts by a congressional supercommittee to slash deficits.

The maneuvering started as Republicans controlling the House moved to resurrect a $3.7 billion disaster aid package after an embarrassing loss Wednesday. Instead of reaching out to Democrats, House GOP leaders looked to persuade wayward tea party Republicans to change their votes and help approve the assistance -- and try to force Senate Democrats into a corner with little choice but to accept cuts to clean-energy programs they favor.

"We're fed up with this," said Democratic Whip Dick Durbin of Illinois. "They know what it takes for us to extend [stopgap funding] and keep the government in business. And this brinksmanship we're sick of it."

Unless Congress acts by midnight next Friday, much of the government will shut down. More immediate is the threat that the government's main disaster aid account will run dry early next week.

The battling came as the stock market absorbed heavy losses and pessimism about the economy deepened. The arguing was reminiscent of the poisonous atmosphere of this summer rather than lawmakers' more recent promises to work together.

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