House Democrats split on two-week government funding measure
Updated: 1:30 p.m.
House Democratic leaders are at odds over a Republican-sponsored measure that would keep the government funded for two weeks while enacting $4 billion in cuts, many of which are favored by President Obama.
The disagreement over the short-term measure comes even as top Democrats are unified in their opposition to House Republicans' longer-term funding resolution, which would keep the government funded through September while cutting $61 billion across federal agencies. That measure passed the House two weeks ago without a single Democrat voting in favor.
House Democratic caucus Chairman John Larson (Conn.) told reporters Tuesday morning that he was planning to vote in favor of the short-term measure Tuesday afternoon, while Democratic caucus Vice-Chairman Xavier Becerra (Calif.) said he is opposed.
The difference of opinion between the two top Democrats comes three days after House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) released a statement criticizing the Republican measure, saying it "is not a good place to start."
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), meanwhile, said last week through a spokesman that he was "encouraged" by the Republican plan, noting that it "sounds like a modified version of what Democrats were talking about."
On Tuesday, Becerra charged that by including billions of dollars' worth of cuts in their measure to avoid a government shutdown Friday, Republicans are "essentially holding the American people hostage."
"There will probably be some Democrats who say we need to move forward in a particular way," Becerra said ahead of a closed-door Democratic caucus meeting. "I'm not going to vote for this, because I'm not interested in having someone say to me, 'I'm playing Russian roulette, and the American people, American jobs, the American economy may suffer unless you go my way.'"
Becerra also said that he opposed the House Republican plan because it would enact cuts to educational and other programs without investing in other programs to balance them out.
"If you simply follow what the Republicans are doing, they're simply cutting money for our schools and not doing anything to help compensate for the cuts to the children in their schools," he said. "The president was at least going to invest some of those dollars back into school programs. So that's why I couldn't vote for it. Whether it's for that, the cuts to seniors, the cuts to our environment, our air and the water we drink; it's not a reasoned approach, but it certainly is good Russian roulette."
Larson said he would likely vote for the two-week funding plan even though it wasn't optimal, because he does not want to see the government shut down Friday.
"I will probably vote in favor of it, even though I have severe questions about it," Larson said. "Nobody wants to shut down the government, but by the same token, I don't want to see this death-by-a-thousand-slashes. And so, hopefully we'll see how the Republicans respond to the president's proposal. But I would hope that within a month, that we're able to come together and agree on cuts and then establish them [for the rest of the 2011 fiscal year]."
Larson also noted that Democrats would hear from Rep. Norm Dicks (D-Wash.), the ranking member on the House Appropriations Committee, at their closed caucus meeting Tuesday morning regarding the way forward on a longer-term measure to keep the government funded.
"I think depending upon where we come out of this, we're hoping, obviously, that we have all Democrats standing together behind our proposal, which is $41 billion below the president's," Larson said. "So we've made the cuts, but done it in a strategic way, and we hope the caucus will follow the lead of Norm Dicks."
The statement by Reid's office late last week on the short-term plan was a sign that lawmakers were nearing agreement on averting a government shutdown, but this week's statements by Pelosi and Becerra indicate that some Democrats remain dissatisfied with the Republican plan.
On Tuesday, the left-leaning Center for American Progress released a letter signed by more than 300 economists, including Clinton administration veterans Laura Tyson and Alan Blinder, arguing that budget cuts would undermine the strength of the country's economy.
"As economists, we believe it is short-sighted to make budget cuts that eliminate necessary investments in our human capital, our infrastructure, and the next generation of scientific and technological advances," the economists wrote. "These cuts threaten our economy's long-term economic competitiveness and the strength of our current economic recovery. ... As Congress begins to debate the federal budget, it must be careful to sustain critical investments in the productive capacity of the United States."
While House Democratic leaders are split on the short-term measure, it also will be worth keeping an eye on the 87 House Republican freshmen during Tuesday's vote. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said Monday that he was confident the freshmen were on board with the two-week plan, but the large group of new lawmakers could prove to be a wildcard as it has during previous votes, such as one earlier this month on extending provisions of the Patriot Act.
| March 1, 2011; 10:00 AM ET
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