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Shutdown Averted Again After Senate Spending Vote

The Senate passed another stopgap spending measure Thursday that will give congressional leaders and the White House another three weeks to work out a longer-term spending agreement. Government funds would have expired on Friday.

This is the second stopgap measure passed by the 112th Congress, and cuts $6 billion from current spending levels. This brings to $10 billion the total amount of cuts made between the two stopgap measures. The Senate approved the measure by a vote of 87-13.

The passage of the measure sets off another round of debate between the Democratic leadership in the Senate and the Republican leadership in the House as Congress tries to agree on funding levels for the rest of the fiscal year, which ends September 30.

Both sides, in addition to the White House, have indicated that any further short-term funding votes (CR votes, for continuing resolution) were off the table, meaning that both sides must come to a longer-term agreement by April 8 or risk forcing a shutdown of some government services.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said after the vote that the conservative Republican caucus, led by House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, is forcing both sides to come together as they negotiate on a longer-term spending bill.

“I have to hand a bouquet to Speaker Boehner. He realized he didn’t have enough votes to win with Republicans and rather than pull the bill, he went to Democrats and said I need some votes and he got 85 of them and allowed that bill to pass. That’s the attitude that we need to keep moving forward,” Reid said.

Earlier in the week, 54 House Republicans voted against the spending measure, many of them because they are anxious to enact bigger spending cuts with a longer-term measure. Because of those Republican “no” votes, Democratic votes were needed to pass the bill, an indication that Boehner may need the other party to pass any longer-term compromise.

The Senate vote tally also showed some of the growing unrest over the spending debate. In the March 2 vote on the current CR, the Senate voted 91 to 9 in favor. On Thursday, 13 senators, some of them Democrats, voted against the stopgap, including Tea Party favorites Jim DeMint, R-S.C., Marco Rubio, R-Fla., Rand Paul, R-Ky., and Mike Lee, R-Utah. You can see the vote tally here.

Sen. Rubio, who voted for the previous CR, issued a statement Thursday to explain his opposition:

“This is a terrible way to run government. We are facing some serious issues in America today, particularly the fact that we are borrowing $4 billion a day to keep the lights on and particularly the fact that we owe $14 trillion and growing. It’s time to face those issues in a serious way,” Rubio said.

The $6 billion in cuts included in the new CR, which will go to President Obama’s desk for a signature, include cuts to earmarks and other domestic funding cuts already outlined in President Obama’s budget proposal. One cut saves about $1.7 billion by eliminating funding for the 2010 Census – which has already been completed. You can see a list of them here.

At the crux of the debate between House and Senate leaders is the issue of compromising on an acceptable number for further spending reductions. House Republicans already passed a bill that would have cut $61 billion from February funding levels, and Senate Democrats offered a $9 billion cut. The Senate rejected both of those measures, making it necessary for a new compromise to keep the government open.

President Obama has largely tried to stay above the fray, but has directed Chief of Staff Bill Daley and Vice President Joe Biden to help the two sides negotiate.

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