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Dems, GOP in Congress begin dance to avert government shutdown

Each side offers to fund government for 30 days past March 4, the current deadline to prevent a government shutdown. But GOP wants even that stopgap measure to include spending cuts.

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After marathon late-night sessions last week, House Republicans emerged with a plan that cuts $100 billion off President Obama’s proposed spending for fiscal year 2011. Congress passed a continuing resolution on Dec. 21 to fund government through March 4. That resolution – worked out after Republicans won control of the House in November midterm elections – cut $41 billion off the president’s request, but did not involve any cuts in actual current spending levels.

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But some House Republicans, especially the 87 GOP freshmen, demanded deeper spending cuts. Conservatives pushed GOP leaders and the Appropriations Committee to come to the floor with a bill that honors a Republican campaign pledge to cut $100 billion from the president’s proposed budget, or about a $61 billion cut in actual current spending. The bill passed early Saturday 235 to 189, with all Democrats voting in opposition. Three Republicans broke ranks and voted with Democrats to oppose the measure.

Now, GOP leaders are pushing the Senate to accept as many of those cuts as possible.

In a statement Tuesday, House majority leader Eric Cantor (R) of Virginia said all the new Reid offer does is “lock in the status quo spending levels, which increased 24 percent over the past two years."

Many House Republicans, including top political advisers, say the public mood favors cuts in government spending. Even if a shutdown happens, it’s unlikely that Republicans will be blamed for it, as they were in the government shutdowns of 1995 and 1996.

“There is a completely different public mood about our level of spending and debt – stronger than I’ve ever seen in 30 years of polling – a concern that we are spending ourselves into bankruptcy and mortgaging our children’s future,” says Republican consultant and pollster Whit Ayres.

“Once Democrats have admitted that Republicans are correct about the problem, it’s hard for them to persuade people that Democrats are right about the solution. Therefore, the Republicans have added credibility in addressing matters of deficits, debt, and fiscal responsibility,” he adds.

“The American people spoke loud and clear: Stop the Washington spending spree and bring down the debt. Yet Washington Democrats can’t find a single dime of federal spending to cut, insisting on the status quo, even for a short-term spending bill,” said Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky in a statement on Tuesday.


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