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Senate amendments stall bill to avert government shutdown

By David Lawder

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A fast-track Senate bill to avert a government shutdown stalled on Thursday under the weight of more than 100 proposed amendments as senators clamored to attach pet provisions to the must-pass measure.

Senate Democratic leaders postponed further votes on the government spending legislation until Monday and said they would work over the weekend to try to whittle down the number of amendments. They had hoped to pass the measure on Thursday.

The added provisions threatened to make the bill unpalatable to the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, which last week passed a much less complicated version of the extension to government funding through September 30.

Government agencies and programs face a broad shutdown if Congress fails to pass an extension by March 27.

The delay caused by the amendments leaves the Senate little time to consider the amendments, pass the bill and work out differences with the House by the time a two week recess starts at the end of next week.

Lawmakers often try to attach provisions to legislation viewed as critical, but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said those efforts were particularly difficult in this case.

For example, he said there were five separate amendments related to Egypt that had been proposed for the U.S. domestic spending measure known as a continuing resolution, or CR.

"The long-term solution to the situation in the Middle East is not a short-term CR. Whatever we do on this bill would expire in six months anyway," Reid said on the Senate floor.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Barbara Mikulski implored colleagues to withdraw their amendments or agree to have them merged with similar proposals.

"Every senator has a right to offer amendments. Every senator has a right to have his or her day. But I would hope they wouldn't do it all on this bill," she said.

Mikulski said that as of late on Thursday, there were still 99 pending amendments that needed to be considered.

Last week, House Speaker John Boehner warned the Senate not to "load up" the continuing resolution with partisan provisions.

On Thursday, before the extent of the proposed amendments was known, he described Senate progress on the measure as "so far, so good," but said he wanted to see the final product before passing judgment.

Both the House and Senate measures would keep in place $85 billion in automatic spending cuts that were triggered on March 1 under past budget legislation and would update spending provisions for the military and Veterans Administration to provide some flexibility in easing the pain from those cuts.

The Senate version initially proposed to add similar spending updates for other areas, including scientific activities such as NASA, and the departments of Commerce, Justice, Agriculture and Homeland Security.

(Reporting by David Lawder; Editing by David Brunnstrom)

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