Federal budget battle continues, preparing for Senate voting Tuesday<
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WASHINGTON, March 4 - House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, remains determined to achieve $61 billion in federal spending cuts below current levels for the remainder of this fiscal year. That's what the House-passed H.R. 1 would do, with $4 billion of the $61 already achieved in the two-week Continuing Resolution (CR) signed into law this week. That leaves just $57 billion more to go. But Senate Democrats have other ideas.
Following Vice President Joe Biden's meeting with a bipartisan group of congressional leaders Thursday, Senate Democrats released a White House backed budget proposal Friday to cut spending $6.5 billion - creating a $50.5 billion gap between the House GOP's and the Senate Democrats' proposals. This gap has both sides hollering - and preparing for possible Tuesday Senate floor votes on both approaches. For Speaker Boehner, failing to achieve the full $61 billion cut would be “indefensible and unacceptable.” House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., is equally committed to sticking with the House-passed budget cuts, dismissing the Democrats' counter-offer as “not a serious attempt to get our fiscal house in order.”
This no-surrender attitude is certainly reflected among House Republican newcomers such as Rep. Vicky Hartzler, R-Mo.. She's confident the House will be able “to convince the Senate to do as the House has done - listen to the will of the people.” She insists that “Simply freezing spending at its current levels is reckless and irresponsible” and that “we have to change the culture that embraces out-of-control spending.”
Democrats remain hopeful that some compromise will be possible to bridge the gap between the two budget proposals. Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said Friday that by blocking a straight up-or-down vote on the House-passed $61 billion cut and forcing a procedural vote instead, “Senate Republicans are agreeing with us that the proposal is too extreme to pass as is. Now that they have admitted they want changes to it just like we do, the real negotiations on the budget can finally begin.”
Senate Democrats believe that at least a few Republicans are opposed to the House CR as too draconian because instead of making carefully targeted cuts, the House bill “makes reckless cuts that would threaten the nation's economic recovery and potentially eliminate hundreds of thousands of American jobs.” Democrats also point out that while their proposal is just $6.5 billion below the current spending level which is a continuation of the fiscal 2010 level, it is $51 billion below what President Obama had requested for fiscal 2011. Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, insists that unlike the House bill, “the Senate proposal will allow the government to continue operating at reduced levels without major disruptions that would set back our economic recovery and eliminate countless American jobs.”
Nobody's willing to predict how the Senate will vote next week on the opposing proposals. One certainty is that negotiations and horse-trading will continue over the weekend and right up until the voting takes place. Another is that there's no time to waste. With the current stopgap CR expiring March 18, the government shutdown which the latest CR avoided this week once again remains a very imminent threat.
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