House GOP backs off slightly in new offer on spending cuts
The short-term spending measure, which excludes some Republican top priorities, aims to avert a government shutdown.By Lisa Mascaro, Washington Bureau
5:50 PM PST, February 25, 2011
Reporting from Washington
Even though the new proposal still would cut $4 billion over two weeks, it was quickly seized upon by Democratic leaders in the Senate, who control that chamber's majority, as a step toward a potential compromise.
Both sides have been working behind the scenes as Congress tries to resolve a budget impasse before the current spending plan expires next Friday. Even as they negotiate, however, they have blamed each other for the possibility of a federal government shutdown.
A House vote on the latest proposal could come as early as Tuesday.
"Let me be clear: A government shutdown is not an acceptable or responsible option for Republicans," said Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), the House majority leader.
A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said the new proposal indicates that Republicans have backed away from what Democrats characterize as the party's "my way or the highway" approach.
"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," said Reid spokesman Jon Summers.
The proposal unveiled Friday differs from the House GOP's spending measure, adopted last week with more than $60 billion in cuts, and relies on a different approach.
The new, short-term measure would cut $4 billion over the next two weeks by terminating programs Obama identified for elimination in next year's budget and by killing earmarks, special expenditures that members of Congress request for their home districts.
Among the eight programs that would be eliminated are those providing for highway spending, a literacy program, election assistance grants, broadband loan subsidies and funds for the Smithsonian Arts and Industries landmark on the National Mall.
But it excludes top Republican priorities, such defunding the healthcare law, preempting Environmental Protection Agency regulations of greenhouse gases and cutting funds for Planned Parenthood.
Republican leaders now must try to ensure that their rank-and-file members and conservative supporters will back the proposal.
The GOP ranks include new members who won election last year with "tea party" support and who were instrumental in forcing a more severe cost-cutting proposal than the party leadership originally envisioned.
To lay the groundwork for next week's vote, Republican leaders convened a conference call with members Thursday to present the contours of the newest stopgap measure.
Many tea party activists and other conservatives have openly advocated a government shutdown. But GOP leaders now are confident their ranks understand the importance of approving a temporary plan to avert a shutdown, even if the proposal fails to include top Republican priorities.
They also expect that their members will allow votes on the new proposal even without the open debate and amendment process that GOP leaders have promised.
The House Republican leaders worked with counterparts in the Senate to craft the potential compromise.
"There is now a clear path to finishing this short-term measure before the March 4 deadline," said Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader.
The proposal does not end the debate. Democrats in the Senate intend next week to unveil their own stopgap measure that would freeze spending at current levels for 30 days, and the two sides must overcome deep divisions to adopt a spending plan that will last until October.