To avoid a government shutdown in less than two weeks, Senate and House leaders on Tuesday moved their parties closer together, slightly, in a bid to allow more time to negotiate spending cuts in the current fiscal year.
Senate majority leader Harry Reid (D) proposed a 30-day extension of government funding beyond the current March 4 deadline. The proposal includes no new spending cuts – a key demand of House Republicans, who on Saturday voted to slice an additional $61 billion out of spending for the current fiscal year.
But the 30-day extension represents a shift for Senator Reid, who said the extra month would be used to negotiate “responsible” spending cuts with House Republicans. Just last week, Senate Democrats said spend cuts in the current fiscal year could derail America’s economic recovery.
“It would be the height of irresponsibility to shut down the government without any negotiations, as Republicans are threatening to do,” the majority leader said Tuesday in a statement. “It is time to drop the threats and ultimatums, and work together on a path forward. I am asking Speaker Boehner to simply take the threat of a government shutdown off the table, and work with us to negotiate a responsible, long-term solution.”
On the House side, Republican leaders rejected Reid's offer as not serious about cutting spending, but – in a shift – opened the door to a stop-gap measure, with spending cuts.
“The House has passed legislation to keep the government running until October while cutting spending. If Senator Reid refuses to bring it to a vote, then the House will pass a short-term bill to keep the government running – one that also cuts spending,” said Speaker John Boehner, in a statement.
Last week, Mr. Boehner said he would not bring a new spending bill to the floor that does not include cuts, period. But he denied that Republicans are proposing a government shutdown. “Not one Republican is talking about a shutdown; it’s [House Democratic leader] Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid,” he said, in remarks to reporters off the House floor on Friday.
House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan (R) of Wisconsin said he expects that bipartisan negotiations will produce “short-term extensions with spending cuts.” “We’re not looking for a government shutdown,” he said Sunday on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”
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.
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.