Democrats and Republicans prepare for budget showdown

Chris Moody Contributor
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Senate Democrats decided in a closed-door meeting Thursday that a short-term extension of current spending levels would be required to lend more time for negotiations with House Republicans over the budget.

Just hours before, however, House Speaker John Boehner said that he would not accept any extension — no matter how short — unless it included spending cuts.

Gentlemen start your engines: It’s time for a game of chicken.

The House is expected to pass a bill this week that would fund the government through the next fiscal year that cuts about $61 billion from current spending levels, a number that is too high for the Senate to accept. Since negotiations between the chambers will likely continue past the two weeks left before the last continuing resolution (CR) expires, Congress must agree on something short-term to provide more time.

Senate Democrats say they want a short-term extension of current spending levels. House Republicans are demanding cuts from any funding bill.

“I am not going to move any kind of short-term CR at current levels,” Boehner told reporters Thursday morning.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid held his ground, saying that current spending levels for a short-term CR is where the Senate will “start and stop.”

Fingers are pointing in all directions as to who will be blamed for a government shutdown, which will happen on March 4 unless the two sides come to an agreement.

“Shutting down the government would be on [Boehner’s] head and that would be a huge mistake,” said Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, North Dakota Democrat.

“The Speaker says we must cut spending,” Boehner spokesman Michael Steel countered. “Why are Senate Majority Leader Reid and Sen. Schumer willing to shut down the government to avoid cutting spending?”

Although Senate Democrats emerged from their meeting with a plan for a short-term extension without cuts, none think the current levels should continue indefinitely. Democrats have said repeatedly they will look for a compromise with Republicans that includes a reduction in spending. All they’re saying now is that they need more time to parse the House proposal and work out a deal.

“Clearly there are going to have to be cuts,” Conrad said. “Many of us believe the House goes too far so there needs to be a negotiation with a responsible conclusion.”

Meanwhile, both sides are playing a huge game of fuzzy math about the amount that is actually going to be cut from the budget. Republicans like to brag that they are cutting “$100 billion,” but they can only reach that number by comparing it to President Obama’s proposed 2011 budget, which was never enacted. Now Democrats say their proposal for a short-term extension at current levels is actually a cut of $41 billion if measured against Obama’s budget.

“There at 100, we’re at 41,” Reid said.

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