Congress wants a budget deal to fund government operations through late 2016, is working on a deal to keep programs running until December, but worries it may not have any deal that will last past Oct. 1.

With a few dozen hours left before a possible government shutdown, Senate lawmakers on Thursday advanced plans for a straightforward continuing resolution that would extend federal spending at fiscal 2016 levels until Dec. 11, hopefully giving political leaders a few more weeks to reach a long-term budget deal.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., repeatedly has promised to avoid a shutdown, even in the face of what he considers stonewalling by Senate Democrats.

The latest budget solution attempt move came after those Democrats halted an effort to strip away funding for Planned Parenthood operations from another budget extension measure, a solution preferred by most House and Senate Republicans.

Conservative House members have vowed to strip away that funding at any cost. But Senate leaders are hopeful that, with the controversial proposal's defeat, House lawmakers will relent and come together on the simpler budget plan.

They'll know whether that's the case by midnight Wednesday, the end of the fiscal year.

The "clean" $1.02 trillion continuing resolution would maintain defense spending at this fiscal year's levels and offer a slight increase in temporary war funding, keeping federal programs from being interrupted.

If an agreement isn't reached, about half of the Defense Department's 720,000 civilian employees and around 15,000 Veterans Affairs Department staffers would face immediate furloughs, and a series of military and veterans programs would be shuttered or delayed until a new budget deal could be reached.

Defense officials and lawmakers alike have called that scenario a self-inflicted wound and an unforgivable disaster.

"A couple of months ago, I would have said there is no way they are going to shut down, and boy, did I get proved wrong," said Bob Hale, a former Pentagon comptroller, during the last partial government shutdown in 2013.

"It's disruptive, it hurts morale, it does all sorts of bad things," Hale said. "The morale of Defense Department civilians has plummeted since 2010, and it will only get worse."

During the two-week shutdown in 2013 — caused by similar political gridlock — military paychecks were protected thanks to special last-minute legislation approved by Congress. But civilian defense employee pay was disrupted, and numerous contractors were sidelined due to funding shortages.

Many recreation and support services were shuttered, although child care and medical offices remained open.

At the VA, hospitals and clinics remained open but saw some administrative staffing shortages. Several information and assistance hotlines were temporarily closed. Benefits checks continued, but officials warned some could have been slowed or stopped if the shutdown had lasted longer.

"If we were to reach (a shutdown), it would have a significant impact on this building and on operations going forward," Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said Tuesday. "And it's something that we feel very strongly needs to be avoided."

Republicans and Democrats have sparred for months over long-term budget plans, with no compromise in sight.

The GOP-controlled House already has passed a series of fiscal 2016 budget bills that would get around spending caps on DoD by plussing up overseas contingency funds. Democrats have vowed to block those plans, arguing that it's irresponsible not to lift spending caps for all federal departments.

McConnell has predicted that the budget extension will give both sides time to work out a compromise on the caps, not only for 2016 but for years to come.

Before that can happen, however, both the House and Senate must reach agreement on a budget reprieve for just a few more weeks. Votes on the continuing resolution are scheduled for early next week.

Staff writer Aaron Mehta contributed to this report.

Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.

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