US Senate approves stop-gap funding bill

A divided US Senate came together Wednesday to approve legislation that avoids a government shutdown, with a compromise stop-gap measure likely headed to the president's desk this week.

The sweeping spending bill that funds day-to-day government operations through the end of September easily passed 73-26, after Senate leaders cut a deal on amendments to the legislation and the chamber overcame a procedural blocking tactic that had been thrown up by Republicans.

It allows senators to turn to the all-important debate over the 2014 budget, which began on the chamber's floor just minutes after passage of the stop-gap funding measure.

"This is a very good day for the Senate," Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid said on the floor. "Legislation is the art of compromise."

Reid and his Republican counterpart, Senator Mitch McConnell, coordinated to break a logjam that threatened to delay the much-needed bill into next weeks' congressional recess, jeopardizing the operations of government if President Barack Obama does not sign the legislation by March 27.

The bill, known as a continuing resolution, must now be reconciled with a House version that passed earlier this month, an action that is expected on Thursday.

The Republican-led House took the lead with its bill that largely kept in place the effects of billions of dollars in automatic budget cuts.

The Senate did not overturn the cuts, leaving in place the five percent budget pinch to domestic agencies and eight percent to the Defense Department.

But in a bid to soften the blow of the cuts, it more carefully detailed the spending allocations for a majority of government agencies including the departments of justice, commerce and homeland security.

Senator John Cornyn, who voted for the bill along with 19 other fellow Republicans, acknowledged its imperfections but said it "represents the first modest step toward reigning in wasteful, Washington spending."

The next step is expected to be more contentious, with the political rivals clashing over their versions of the 2014 budget as they lay out their spending vision for the next decade.

The House is expected this week to pass a budget resolution put forward by congressman Paul Ryan, last year's failed GOP vice presidential nominee, that slashes federal spending, reforms entitlements and insists on no new taxes.

Democrats in the Senate are pushing for what they describe as a balanced approach to deficit reduction, including targeted spending cuts and new tax revenue to help slash the $16 trillion national debt.

The White House has yet to put forward its budget plan.