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Originally published Thursday, March 17, 2011 at 10:05 PM

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Senate OKs stopgap spending bill; negotiations next

The Senate approved another stopgap budget bill Thursday that would keep the federal government open until April 8.

The Washington Post

The day in D.C.

NPR funding: The House on Thursday voted to end federal funding to National Public Radio. Republican supporters said it made good fiscal sense, and Democratic opponents called it an ideological attack that would deprive local stations of access to programs such as "Car Talk" and "All Things Considered." The bill, passed 228-192, would bar federal funding of NPR and prohibit local public stations from using federal money to pay NPR dues and buy its programs. The prospects of support in the Senate are slim. Seven Republicans, including Rep. Dave Reichert of Washington, broke ranks to vote against the bill.

Afghan resolution: The House overwhelmingly rejected, 321-93, a resolution calling for the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan by year's end as Republicans and Democrats embraced President Obama's long-term war strategy. A resolution expresses lawmakers' opinions but has no legal effect.

Gay marriage: Democrats introduced legislation Wednesday that would repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, a renewed attack on the 15-year-old law the Obama administration has said it would no longer defend in court from challenges brought on behalf of same-sex couples. The legislation comes as the Republican-led House has initiated its own legal defense of the act, which prevents gay couples from receiving various federal rights that are extended to heterosexual couples.

Seattle Times news services

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WASHINGTON — The Senate approved another stopgap budget bill Thursday that would keep the federal government open until April 8. The measure, which had passed the House, is expected to be signed Friday by President Obama.

The bill would cut $6 billion in federal spending. That makes twice this month that lawmakers from both parties have agreed to slash billions from the budget.

But the measure did not get Democrats and Republicans any closer to agreeing on a larger deal to fund the government through September, the end of the fiscal year.

It just puts three more weeks on the clock.

"Patience is wearing thin on both sides with these stopgaps," said New York Sen. Charles Schumer, the Senate's No. 3 Democrat. "All signs point to this being the last one. Three weeks should be enough to negotiate a final deal."

On Thursday, however, there were reasons to think it would not be.

For one of those three weeks, Congress will be on recess. And the two sides began their key negotiations with an argument: over how they should negotiate.

Schumer said House Republicans should make the next move, offering a proposal that's closer to what Democrats will accept.

Republicans said the opposite.

"I again implore the president and Senate Democrats to give us an offer," said House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va. "We cannot continue to fund the government with a series of Band-Aids."

There was one sign of progress Thursday: Senate Democratic leaders said Obama administration staff members and aides to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, held a meeting Wednesday to talk about the budget.

Democrats and Republicans alike seem determined to avoid a government shutdown: There is a high risk the public will view that as incompetence. And, when under deadline pressure, both sides have shown they can agree on billions in reductions. The last short-term measure, passed this month, would cut $4 billion from the budget.

"If you've got $10 billion in cuts in six weeks, we've been overspending ... since this took, really, no effort," said Thomas Schatz of the watchdog group Citizens Against Government Waste. The cuts "are things that they should have been doing all along."

Among the cuts:

• $1.74 billion from the U.S. Census Bureau. Because there won't be another census until 2020, the money is not needed this year.

• $48 million from a program established in 1999 to provide loans to the since-recovered steel industry.

• $19 million from a fund to help public television stations convert to digital broadcasting, but the conversion was complete in 2009.

• $14.8 million from the National Park Service's Save America's Treasures program, which had helped restore the "Star-Spangled Banner" flag, now on display at the National Museum of American History.

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