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Stephens Washington Bureau - Washington Digest: Congress Continues Budget Battle

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Location: Washington, DC

Congress avoided a shutdown of nonessential government services last week, approving another stopgap budget good through the first week of April.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said the continuing resolution provides more time to negotiate a long-term spending bill for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1, 2010.

Democrats and Republicans have been locked in partisan gridlock for months with neither side willing to concede significant ground over spending.

Republicans are seeking a $60 billion reduction in current spending as a down payment on larger cuts to come in the next fiscal year as they seek to rein in deficit spending.

Democrats fear excessive cuts now could throw the economy back into recession. They also oppose many of the specific cuts offered by Republicans.

The new short-term continuing resolution cleared the House and Senate with less support than previous stopgaps amid growing frustrations with the budget impasse.

"The question before the Senate is whether we are going to take bold action now to reduce our deficit and control spending, or keep putting it off and drive the country further into debt," said Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah.

The Senate voted 87-13 in favor of the resolution. Reid voted in favor. Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., opposed it.

The House approved it, 271-158. Reps. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., and Joe Heck, R-Nev., supported it. Rep. Dean Heller, R-Nev., opposed it.

PUBLIC RADIO FUNDING REJECTED

After a contentious debate, the House approved legislation to block federal funding to National Public Radio.

Republicans argued that NPR should survive without federal funds.

"Our country does not have the money to pay for this," said Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn.

Democrats complained the measure would cripple local public radio stations that rely on National Public Radio programming that is too costly to produce on their own.

"That's why they voluntarily buy 'Morning Edition' or 'Prairie Home Companion' or 'Car Talk' " from NPR, said Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore.

The House voted 228-192 to pass the bill. Heck and Heller voted for it. Berkley voted against it.

AFGHANISTAN RESOLUTION FAILS

The House overwhelmingly rejected a resolution calling for U.S. troops to be withdrawn from Afghanistan by year's end.

Proponents said Congress should not support a war that has ill-defined goals, no exit strategy and encourages Afghani citizens to take up arms against U.S. troops.

"The occupation is fueling an insurgency," said Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, who introduced the resolution.

Opponents argued that removing combat troops now would leave Afghanistan vulnerable to a return of the Taliban and safe havens for terror groups like al-Qaida.

"It would undermine national security and our ability to keep us safe right here at home," said Rep. Tim Griffin, R-Ark.

The House voted 321-93 against the resolution. Berkley, Heck and Heller opposed the resolution.


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