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Congress gives first inklings of compromise in budget stalemate

In several subtle ways, congressional leaders gave signs Thursday that they were moving toward a compromise on federal spending to avoid a government shutdown April 8.

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To find a working majority in the House, Boehner will either have to bridge differences with the 57-member House tea party caucus or reach out to moderate “Blue Dog” Democrats, who favor fiscal discipline but oppose some of the policy riders in the Feb. 19 House spending bill, which included $61.5 billion in cuts.

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Asked if he was interested in leaving conservative colleagues behind and forming a coalition with Democrats, Boehner said he was “not very interested.”

Pushing for a balanced-budget amendment

GOP leaders say it will take many measures to build confidence with conservatives and the public that Congress is serious about changing its ways. Toward that end, the 47-member Senate Republican caucus unanimously endorsed a balanced-budget amendment to force lawmakers to “reverse the course of running unsustainable deficits.”

The measure requires the president to submit a balanced budget every year that limits outlays to 18 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), requires the Congress to limit spending to 18 percent of GDP, and requires a supermajority to raise taxes or increase the debt limit. Exceptions would be made for national defense emergencies.

Commenting at Thursday’s release of the balanced-budget amendment, Sen. Bob Corker (R) of Tennessee says that Republicans need to “negotiate the deepest cuts we possibly can” in the current spending dispute, establish a “statutory solution that can go into effect right away,” and “make sure over time we have something to anchor it – and that’s a constitutional amendment.”

The move is largely seen as symbolic at this point, since amendments to the Constitution require approval not only of two-thirds of both Houses of Congress, but also three-quarters of the states.

Meanwhile, tea party activists rallied on Capitol Hill today to urge Republican leaders to keep promises to restore fiscal discipline. Rep. Mike Pence (R) of Indiana called it “a defining moment for the new majority in Congress.”

Even the $61 billion in cuts proposed by the Feb. 19 House bill “is nothing to write home about,” he told activists weathering a cold, drizzling rain. “But it’s a start…. And if liberals in the Senate would rather play political games and shut down the government instead of making a small down payment on fiscal discipline and reform, I say, ‘Shut it down.’ ”


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