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US budget deal clears crucial test vote in Senate

WASHINGTON--A two-year U.S. budget deal that eases some automatic spending cuts cleared a crucial Senate test vote on Tuesday, all but assuring its passage by a simple majority later this week in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

The Senate voted 67-33 to limit debate and advance the measure, overcoming the opposition of conservative Republicans who objected to increased near-term government spending.

Members of the House and Senate Appropriations committees are not waiting for enactment. They face a Jan. 15 deadline for a new government spending measure and are already starting work to divvy up the money specified by the budget measure among government agencies and programs, congressional aides said.

The Appopriations committees will need to decide on funding for controversial programs such as high-speed rail projects in California, foreign aid and funding for international institutions.

They also will need to deal with policy demands that may be made in the funding measure, such as approval of the Canada-to-Texas Keystone oil pipeline.

But the budget deal makes some decisions easier by restoring overall fiscal 2014 discretionary spending levels to US$1.012 trillion, close to the pre-sequester, fiscal 2013 level of US$1.028 trillion, limiting the cuts that need to be made.

The measure will likely prevent any government shutdown crises for the next two years.

But shortly after the vote, top Senate Republican Mitch McConnell signaled that storm clouds were brewing over a potential debt limit fight in the spring.

“I doubt if the House or for that matter the Senate is willing to give the president a clean debt ceiling increase,” McConnell told reporters, noting that lawmakers had in the past insisted on adding restrictions on spending.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he “can't imagine” that Republicans would want another fight over the debt ceiling after a grueling fall battle over a 16-day government shutdown and an extension of U.S. borrowing authority.

In Tuesday's procedural vote, 12 Republicans joined 53 Democrats and two independents in voting to advance the budget deal.

These included both moderate and conservative Republicans, including John McCain, Roy Blunt, Lamar Alexander and Ron Johnson.

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