By Jon H. Harsch

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

WASHINGTON, March 2 – The Senate's decisive 91-9 vote Tuesday for a temporary agreement funding the federal government through March 18 provides more time to negotiate. But the threat of a government shutdown remains. House Republicans are sticking to the $61 billion in cuts included in their House-passed budget bill. Meanwhile the White House insisted Wednesday that negotiators should settle on “middle ground” well short of the GOP's $61 billion spending reduction. Democrats charge that the House cuts would drive unemployment up sharply and undermine the fragile economic recovery.

The Senate vote Wednesday for the two-week extension which includes an additional $4 billion in budget cuts shows solid bipartisan support for avoiding a government shutdown. But Democrats maintain that it does not indicate anywhere near the same level of support for the House GOP's full $61 billion in budget cuts.

The nine senators who voted against the stopgap measure were Sens. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, Mike Lee, R-Utah, Rand Paul, R-Ky., Jim Risch, R-Idaho, Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, Patty Murray, D-Wash., Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, Carl Levin, D-Mich., and Bernie Sanders, I-Vt..

Since the House approved the two-week Continuing Resolution (CR) Tuesday in a 335-91 vote, President Obama was able to sign the bill immediately. He signed the bill even though, along with other Democrats, he had called for a longer extension and charges that “Living with the threat of a shutdown every few weeks is not responsible and it puts our economic progress in jeopardy.”

Obama also is urging congressional leaders to launch serious negotiations immediately with the White House to draw up a compromise CR to fund the government through the end of the fiscal year, Sept. 30. He said the agreement “should be bipartisan, it should be free of any party’s social or political agenda, and it should be reached without delay.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Wednesday following the Senate vote that “Now that this stop-gap measure has passed the Senate, it is time for Republicans to work with us on the real issue: a long-term solution to fund our government and cut spending. There is no time to waste, and the White House has said that Vice President Biden is willing to begin negotiations right away. Democrats will be at the table, and we hope our Republican colleagues will join us.” He added that “Rehashing the battle over funding the government every two weeks is bad policy because it creates uncertainty for businesses, and our economy can’t afford it. The time has arrived for Republicans to come to the table to begin negotiations with Senate Democrats and the White House immediately on a long-term package. Republicans insisted on a two-week timeline. Now they have a responsibility to set aside threats of government shutdown if they don’t get everything they’re demanding. They need to be prepared to negotiate immediately and reach an agreement quickly.”

In response to Reid and the White House calling for compromise, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said Wednesday that “Washington’s ongoing spending binge is destroying jobs, and we refuse to pile on trillions more in debt on the backs of our kids and grandkids. For too long, Democratic and Republican leaders alike have refused to make the difficult decisions necessary to put our nation back on track. Instead, Congress has continuously passed irresponsible spending bills, such as the 'stimulus' bill, that have left us with even higher debt and fewer jobs. By contrast, the new GOP majority in the House is living up to the Pledge to America, and taking action to reduce government spending and create a better environment in America for job creation.”

Boehner said the Senate's vote Wednesday provides Democrats “another two weeks to consider the House-approved budget legislation, H.R. 1, in the Senate.” He concluded that “This bill fulfills our Pledge to cut $100 billion from the President’s FY 2011 budget request and keeps the government working through September. The Washington spending binge that has left us with fewer jobs and more debt must come to an end, and the onus is now on the Democrats who run Washington to follow our lead. “

Rather than consider compromise, Boehner said “We will continue to stand firm, insisting on real spending cuts and reforms so we can help create an environment that allows for private sector job growth and protects future generations from the burden of unsustainable debt.”

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