House Republicans plot two-week spending bill

The US Capitol building at dusk
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WASHINGTON - Republicans controlling the House will advance a temporary government funding bill to keep the government open for two weeks after a deadline expires next Friday, a spokesman for Speaker John Boehner said Wednesday.

The Ohio Republican is insisting on about $4 billion in spending cuts, the latest salvo in a continuing battle with Democrats running the Senate. They're still being put together. The $4 billion figure is roughly equal to the pace of cuts in a bigger bill passed by Republicans last week that slashes $61 billion from the budget over the remaining seven months of the fiscal year.

Boehner's idea was immediately rejected by Senate Democrats as a nonstarter.

The exchange comes a day after Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said that Senate Democrats will try to pass a 30-day measure to keep the government frozen at last year's budget levels. Boehner flatly rejected the idea and insisted on immediate cuts.

"Americans understand we need to stop the spending binge in Washington to create a better environment for job creation," Boehner said. "So I ask Senator Reid, with all due respect: what are you willing to cut?"

"This bill would simply be a two-week version of the reckless measure the House passed last weekend," said Reid spokesman Jon Summers. "It would impose the same spending levels in the short term as their initial proposal does in the long term, and it isn't going to fool anyone."

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The daily tit for tat comes as a March 4 deadline looms. That's when a current stopgap measure expires, and unless another one is passed, non-essential government programs will temporarily close down.

At issue are the agency operating budgets passed each year by Congress that account for about one-third of the overall federal budget and are funded through appropriations bills. Democrats failed to pass a single such measure last year, and the GOP-dominated House on Saturday passed a huge catchall measure to fund agencies through the Sept. 30 end of the budget year.

The broader GOP measure is laden with $61 billion in cuts to domestic programs and foreign aid and has provoked a veto threat from the White House and is dead-on-arrival with Senate Democrats.

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The two-week measure is intended to buy time for further negotiations, but more time is almost certain to be needed, given the wide gulf between the two sides. Aides requiring anonymity to discuss the talks said that they've gotten off to a shaky start and that Republicans are so far insisting on the full $61 billion in cuts.

Both sides are maneuvering to try to pin the blame on the other side if the government has to shut down, which seems increasingly possible given the hardening of positions.

Democrats say the big GOP measure would lead to crippling spending cuts and widespread furloughs. And the GOP measure is freighted with legislative riders blocking the enforcement of numerous environmental rules and barring federal funding from going to Planned Parenthood.

And Democrats circulated an analysis by Goldman Sachs, a respected Wall St. firm, that says the GOP spending cuts could reduce economic growth by up to 2 percentage points over the second and third quarters of the year.

Republicans in the Senate back Boehner's drive to attach immediate spending cuts to the stopgap measure. In recent years, such short-term funding measures have kept agencies funded at prior-year levels.

"While Republicans are making a genuine effort to cut spending and debt, Washington Democrats can't seem to find a single dime of federal spending to cut," said Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. "But keeping bloated spending levels in place won't cut it."