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Senate passes bill to balance federal budget

Similar to the House plan, it would reduce benefit programs without raising taxes.

WASHINGTON - Republicans pushed a balanced-budget plan through the Senate early Friday, positioning Congress for months of battling President Obama over the GOP's goals of slicing spending and dismantling his health-care law.

Working into Friday's predawn hours, senators approved the blueprint by a near party-line 52-46 vote, endorsing a measure that closely follows one the House passed Wednesday. Both budgets embody a conservative vision of shrinking projected federal deficits by more than $5 trillion over the coming decade, mostly by cutting health care and other benefit programs and without raising taxes.

The Senate was beginning a spring recess after approving the measure, leaving Congress' two GOP-run chambers to negotiate a compromise budget in mid-April. The legislation is a nonbinding blueprint that does not require Obama's signature but lays the groundwork for future bills that seem destined for veto fights with the president.

"Republicans have shown that the Senate is under new management and delivering on the change and responsible government the American people expect," said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.).

Democrats viewed the document differently, saying it relied on gimmickry and touted the wrong priorities.

"The budget we passed today is irresponsible and fails to effectively invest in our future," said Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D., Md.).

The budget's solidly ideological tenor contrasted with a bipartisan bill the House overwhelmingly approved Thursday permanently blocking perennial cuts in physicians' Medicare fees. It too will wait until April for final congressional approval by the Senate, with McConnell saying his chamber will handle it "very quickly when we get back."

Though doctors face a 21 percent cut in Medicare fees April 1, the government can delay processing those payments until Congress' return. The measure, which also provides money for health-care programs for children and low-income people, would be partly financed with higher premiums for top-earning Medicare recipients.

On the budget, only two Republicans voted no: Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Rand Paul of Kentucky, a pair of presidential hopefuls. Two other potential GOP presidential candidates, Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, voted yes.

All voting Democrats were opposed.

The Senate budget would cut $4.3 trillion from benefit programs over the next 10 years, including annulling Obama's health law, a step the president would surely veto.