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Senate approves partial spending measure

The Senate has approved a $182 billion appropriations measure that lays out spending for some government agencies through September and could lead to an agreement with the House that would avoid a spending showdown this month.

By a vote of 69 to 30, the Senate agreed to the bill for agriculture, criminal justice, transportation and housing agencies through fiscal 2012.

The bill groups three of the 12 separate appropriations bills that Congress was supposed to adopt before the fiscal year ended Sept. 30.

Unable to reach agreement with the House, the Senate instead bought time to continue talks with a resolution that extended last year’s spending polices through Nov. 18.

Wary of polling that shows Congress’s public approval rating has dipped to single digits and eager not to distract from the work of the bipartisan “super committee” that is tasked with cutting deficits for years to come, leaders in both chambers have said they are eager to avoid a showdown over next year’s spending that could threaten a government shutdown this month.

They have outlined a complicated process to use the Senate bill approved Tuesday to accomplish the goal.

First, appropriators in both chambers hope to find quick agreement on spending priorities for the areas of government included in the bill.

Then, they could attach a resolution that would keep other areas of the government operating under the same spending policies as last year into December. With one vote — potentially the week of Nov. 14 — Congress could then settle spending for the year for some agencies while buying time to finish their work for the rest of government.

Both chambers agreed on a $1.043 trillion spending ceiling for the year in the August deal that raised the nation’s debt ceiling. Both sides hope the agreement on overall spending, usually the issue that proves most problematic, will smooth agreement in coming weeks.

But some House Republicans have indicated they will oppose any spending measures that don’t cut government even more. And with the most expensive areas of government still to be discussed — including the Pentagon and the Department of Health and Human Services — unexpected fights could crop up.

In the meantime, senators congratulated themselves for getting the spending measure through their own stalemated process. While the House has passed six of the 12 annual spending measures for the year, the Senate had previously adopted only one.

Debate over the measure allowed senators time to propose and debate amendments on topics including agriculture subsidies, terrorist detainee policies and food stamps.

Rosalind Helderman is a political enterprise and investigations reporter for the Washington Post.

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