WASHINGTON (AP) -- Congress has approved $6 billion in spending cuts as part of legislation to keep the government running for three more weeks and give President Barack Obama and congressional leaders time to negotiate a far more sweeping package of reductions demanded by Republicans.
The bill easily passed the Senate by a 87-13 vote, but patience is running out on both sides with stopgap funding measures that keep the government open for two or three weeks at a time.
The White House and Capitol Hill Republicans remain far apart on larger legislation to cover the day-to-day operations of the government until the 2012 fiscal year begins in October.
Government agencies have generally been operating at last year's levels for almost half of the budget year. But Thursday's measure - combined with $4 billion in cuts from a two-week extension passed earlier this month - means that Congress has cut $10 billion since Republicans took over the House in January.
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A divided Congress readied a spending bill for President Barack Obama that would keep the government open for three more weeks in hopes that budget talks between the White House and House Republicans will produce a longer-term deal.
The stopgap measure awaiting Senate approval Thursday includes $6 billion in cuts to domestic spending in the budget year that ends Sept. 30. Some GOP conservatives want deeper reductions and an immediate fight over the budget, but both Democratic and Republican leaders support the latest temporary extension.
The measure would buy time for talks about passing larger legislation to cover the day-to-day operations of the government until the 2012 budget year begins.
Talks have gotten off to a slow start, however, with disputes over how much to cut. Also at issue are proposals to cut off taxpayer aid to Planned Parenthood, block money to clean up the Chesapeake Bay, and bar the government from shutting down mountaintop mines it believes will cause too much water pollution.
Some Democrats say the GOP cuts could lead to widespread furloughs of federal workers and cost jobs if public works money is trimmed.
"How much more can we cut before we have no funds to pay employees to monitor our borders and ports? How much more before we have to cancel the construction of dams, bridges, highways, levees, sewers, and transit projects and throw thousands of private sector workers on to the street?" said Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii.
Both sides say they're tired of running the government in two- and three-week installments. Expectations are rising that a confrontation is ahead when the latest measure would run out on April 8.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said Wednesday he would do everything in his power to make sure that Congress acts on the Pentagon's budget by that time. He said that after this temporary measure, further legislation to fund the government will have to include the $500 billion-plus Pentagon budget.
McConnell said House GOP leaders have assured him that any future budget bill - whether it's a full-year measure endorsed by President Barack Obama or one more stopgap measure - will contain the defense money. Such a scenario could give Republicans leverage because Democrats wouldn't want to be accused of blocking the Pentagon's budget.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates has grown increasingly anxious as his budget has stalled in the quarrel between Democrats and Republicans.
The House passed the temporary extension Tuesday by a 271-158 vote despite opposition from some tea party-backed conservatives who said it "kicks the can down the road" instead of imposing steep and immediate spending cuts.
Fifty-four Republicans opposed the bill, which meant that Democratic support was required to pass it - a prospect that GOP leaders must avoid to maintain leverage in future rounds.
"If this 54 is the tail that wags the dog, they're in trouble," said the No. 2 House Democrat, Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland.
Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, could yield to conservatives and try to rally Republicans behind legislation that the White House won't accept, or he could negotiate with Democrats and anger supporters in the tea party movement.