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Senate easily passes $1.1 spending bill; Obama's signature next step

WASHINGTON - Congress sent President Barack Obama a $1.1 trillion spending bill Thursday, a compromise-laden legislation that reflects the a desire by both Democrats and Republicans for an respite after three years of budget wars that had Congress and the White House lurching from crisis to crisis.

The Senate voted 72-26 for the measure, which eases the harshest effects of last year's automatic budget cuts. It had cleared the House a little more than 24 hours earlier on a similarly lopsided vote, and Obama's signature on the bill was expected in time to prevent any interruption in government funding Saturday at midnight.

Conservative tea party critics mounted only a faint protest, chastened by the public backlash against October's partial government shutdown, which occurred after Republicans tried to use a temporary spending bill to derail Obama's signature health care overhaul. With congressional elections coming in November, neither the Republicans nor the Democrats wanted another paralyzing bipartisan fight.

The huge bill funds every agency of government, pairing increases for NASA and Army Corps of Engineers construction projects with cuts to the Internal Revenue Service tax agency and foreign aid. It pays for implementation of Obama's health care law.

Also included is funding for tighter regulations on financial markets, but at levels lower than the president wanted.

Both parties looked upon the measure as a way to ease automatic spending cuts that both the Pentagon and domestic agencies had to begin absorbing last year.

Shortly before the final vote, Sen. Ted Cruz, a Republican and possible presidential contender in 2016, delivered a slashing attack on Senate Democrats, accusing them of ignoring the problems caused by the health care law. "It is abundantly clear that millions of Americans are being harmed right now by this failed law," Cruz said.

Unlike last fall, when Cruz spoke for 21 straight hours and helped force the government shutdown over defunding "Obamacare," this time he clocked in at 17 minutes and simply asked the Senate to unanimously approve an amendment to strip out Obamacare funding. Democrats easily repelled the manoeuvr.

The bill, which cleared the House on a vote of 359-67, increases spending by about $26 billion over fiscal 2013, with most of the increase going to domestic programs. Almost $9 billion in unrequested money for overseas military and diplomatic operations helps ease shortfalls in the Pentagon and foreign aid budgets.


Associated Press writer Andrew Taylor contributed to this report.

The Canadian Press

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