Senators discussed a possible government shutdown after the House of Representatives passed a continuing resolution on Saturday that would be dead on arrival in the upper chamber.
Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Democrats would not accept the spending measure House Republicans approved, which would cut $61 billion from current spending levels for the rest of the 2011 fiscal year. Congress must work out an agreement on spending by March 4 to avoid a government shutdown. Both chambers are out of session until Feb. 28 so that leaves a matter of days to reach an agreement, but with Senate Democrats and even some Senate Republicans not supporting the House resolution, a government shutdown seems more likely.
“Unfortunately, Speaker [John] Boehner seems to be on a course that would inevitably lead to a shutdown,” Schumer said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “That’s reckless … and I hope he’d reconsider.”
Schumer said Democrats “already agreed” to steep cuts in December and acknowledged the nation could not sustain its current spending binge; however, he said, Democrats did not think the amount of spending cuts House Republicans made so quickly was responsible and would actually slow the pace of the economic recovery.
Because of the lack of time for the Senate to debate and vote on a continuing resolution by the March 4 deadline, party leaders will need to come up with a stopgap measure to continue funding the government for at least a few more weeks while lawmakers can reach an agreement on the continuing resolution. Boehner has said Republicans would not agree to even a short-term extension without spending cuts also being included.
“I am not going to move any kind of short-term CR at current levels,” Boehner said to reporters on Thursday. “When we say we’re going to cut spending, read my lips, we’re going to cut spending.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) reiterated Boehner’s statement on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday, also saying he would not support a stopgap measure unless it included some spending cuts.
“The only way we’ll shut the government down is if our Democratic colleagues insist on keeping the government large and unsustainable,” he said.
Schumer, though, said Democrats agreed to $41 billion in cuts from President Barack Obama’s 2011 budget request in December when Congress passed the bill to fund the government through March 4. He said he did not see why there was a problem in continuing that for a couple more weeks while Democrats and Republicans in both the House and Senate reached a consensus on a larger spending plan through September.
“These cuts are painful, and many in our caucus didn’t want to go along with those,” Schumer said. “What we’re proposing is that for a short time – a couple of weeks – we continue that $41 billion level while House and Senate negotiators come up somewhere in the middle. We are saying, ‘negotiate,’ and they’re saying, ‘do it my way’ before any negotiations even begin.”
Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) also spoke on “Meet the Press” and said a government shutdown would be an “utter failure.” He urged both parties to work together to solve the nation’s fiscal problems.
“We know we need to cut spending,” he said. “We know we need to find a way to live within our fiscal means. …If I have anything to fault with the House approach to it, I think they went too far with their cuts.”
Senators from both parties also spoke on “Fox News Sunday” about a possible government shutdown. Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) and Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Missouri) both stressed the need for compromise if anything was going to get done.
“I’m convinced that there’s $50 billion in waste in the Defense Department that we can go get,” Coburn said. “I’m convinced there’s hundreds of billions of dollars in waste across tons of government programs that we can go get. There’s a commitment to try to get something done. Whether we will or not, we don’t know.”
“If we don’t want to make political points and we’re not posturing for the extreme element of our party, we can all sit down and find those compromises,” McCaskill said. “And that’s what Boehner ought to be emphasizing.”
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