Wednesday, March 2, 2011

House to Vote Tuesday on Stopgap Budget to Avoid Government Shutdown

With funding for the federal government scheduled to expire Friday at midnight, the House of Representatives will vote Tuesday on a short-term spending bill to keep the government operating through March 18.

The Republican-sponsored measure would keep the government open while House and Senate negotiators try to hammer out a longer-term budget for the rest of the year. It would also retroactively cut $4 billion from 2010 levels over the next two weeks.

"We can keep the government open and cut spending," House Majority Leader Eric Cantor said Monday. "I think there's a false choice that you can't do both."

The House vote comes a week after the chamber voted to slash $61 billion from the federal budget for the rest of the year, including zeroing out programs favored by Democrats, like Planned Parenthood, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the recently passed health care reform bill.

But with the Democratically controlled Senate unlikely to act on the House-passed bill, Republican leaders redrafted the plan to pull the funding from sources that President Obama has already proposed to cut, like earmarks and highway funding, but also keep the lower spending levels that conservatives House freshmen are insisting on.

"We don't see why there's any reason in the world the Senate doesn't accept that," Cantor said.

Although House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi criticized the spending cuts in the new House proposal as "not a good place to start," Senate Democrats, and even the White House, have sent signals that the revamped measure could pass this week to keep the government operating, at least for now.

"We're pleased that there seems to be some progress, and we think we're moving in the right direction," White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters Monday. "But this is still a process that's being worked up on the Hill."

In the Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid has moved to bring a short-term spending bill up for a vote before Friday, but Reid has not yet offered details on what the Senate would take up, nor has he committed to voting on the same cuts the House is proposing.

Jon Summers, Reid's spokesman, told Politics Daily only that "we remain focused on preventing a government shutdown, while working on the long-term solutions we need to fund the government and responsibly cut spending."

In order to do that, the House and Senate will eventually have to agree this week on spending and cuts to federal programs, a level of compromise that has eluded the two chambers so far this year. Democrats and Republicans will also have to agree on a longer-term funding plan by March 18 or again face the prospect of a government shutdown.

That's a scenario that most Americans say they want to avoid. A poll conducted by Gallup last week showed that 60 percent of those polled-- including 61 percent of independents-- said they want their legislators to compromise on a budget rather than force a government shutdown.


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