Threat of shutdown appears to wane as Democrats say they're 'encouraged' by GOP plan
House Republicans on Friday unveiled a stopgap government funding measure that would include $4 billion in cuts over two weeks.
The plan met with tentative support from Senate Democrats, who portrayed the measure as similar to a plan they had been drafting that would include some of the cuts proposed by President Obama for his fiscal 2012 budget.
The moves were an indication that the gulf between Senate Democrats and House Republicans on keeping the government funded past early March is narrowing and that the threat of a government shutdown may be postponed.
"We are encouraged to hear that Republicans are abandoning their demands for extreme measures like cuts to border security, cancer research and food safety inspectors and instead moving closer to Democrats' position that we should cut government spending in a smart, responsible way that targets waste and excess while keeping our economy growing," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's (D-Nev.) spokesperson, Jon Summers, said in a statement Friday afternoon shortly before the release of the stopgap funding measure.
Summers added that the measure being floated by Republicans "sounds like a modified version of what Democrats were talking about."
"We're glad they think it's a good idea, but we should keep our focus on what we need to do to cut spending and keep our economy growing in the long-term," Summers said. "If we need a little more time to agree on a responsible path forward, we should pass a short-term CR for no longer than the next month."
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said in a statement that House Republicans plan to vote on the measure next week.
"The American people want the government to stay open, and they want us to cut spending," Boehner said. "We're listening, and this responsible proposal will save taxpayers $4 billion by eliminating earmark slush funds and focusing on spending cuts President Obama already proposed."
Summers renewed Democrats' criticism of Republicans' stance as a "my way or the highway" approach geared toward effecting a government shutdown. But in another sign that tensions are waning ahead of a looming March 4 deadline, Summers referred to that approach as one that Republicans "have been taking in the past," adding that Democrats "hope [the planned stopgap measure] is a sign that they have abandoned it and will work with Democrats moving forward."
Among the $4 billion in cuts included in the plan would be $1.24 billion cut from eight federal programs, many of which had been deemed ineffective or duplicative of other programs.
Five of those cuts had been requested by Obama in his fiscal 2012 budget; they include Election Assistance Grants and the Department of Education's LEAP, Striving Reading, Even Start and Smaller Learning Communities programs. The other three cuts are to programs that did not receive funding requests in Obama's 2012 budget.
The $4 billion in cuts also includes $2.7 billion in earmarks. The earmarked funds would have gone toward a collection of homeland security, energy and water, and labor, health and education programs and projects.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) also endorsed the plan Friday night, noting that "President Obama and congressional Democrats agree with Republicans that these are potential areas to reduce spending, removing any excuses they have offered for demanding their status quo spending levels."
"As a result, there is now a clear path to finishing this short-term measure before the March 4th deadline," McConnell added. "By supporting the House bill, our friends on the other side of the aisle will have the chance to ensure that the government remains operational while we work with them to identify additional ways to shrink Washington spending this year."
An agreement on a short-term plan would mean that the threat of a government shutdown would be postponed until mid- to late March. But wide disagreements remain between both parties over the scope of any longer-term budget cuts.
In his statement Friday, Boehner said that "keeping the already-high, 'stimulus'-inflated spending levels in place -- as Senate Democrats have proposed on this short-term bill -- is unacceptable." House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), meanwhile, cautioned Democrats in a Friday statement "to make sure that their cuts are significant and serious spending reduction proposals, not just minor efforts to trim around the edges."
And earlier this week, House Democrats hit back against Republicans' proposal to cut $61 billion from federal spending over the next seven months, warning that the measure "would hinder our ability to ensure the safety of our food, rebuild America, secure our nation and educate our children."
In a report issued Thursday by the Democratic staff of the House Appropriations Committee, Democrats translated the dollar amounts of the Republican-proposed cuts into figures related to jobs and programs.
Democrats have also pointed to a report by the liberal Economic Policy Institute projecting that the House-passed spending resolution would result in the loss of 800,000 private and public-sector jobs, as well as a report by a Goldman Sachs analyst that the House GOP cuts could reduce the country's economic growth by as much as two percentage points in the second and third quarters of the year.
Friday morning, House Republican leaders renewed their criticism of Senate Democrats' proposal as "defending the status quo in Washington."
Meanwhile, both sides have been hustling to avert blame in case a government shutdown does indeed happen. A release from Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy's (R-Calif.) office Friday afternoon detailing House Republicans' short-term spending plan was headlined: "House Republicans Continue Working to Avoid a Government Shutdown."
This post has been updated since it was first published.
| February 25, 2011; 5:40 PM ET
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