Senate Democrats are drafting a plan to slice billions of dollars in federal spending over the next seven months, their first concession to Republicans, who insist on reducing the size of government this year instead of waiting until 2012.
The proposal will incorporate some of the $33 billion in program terminations and reductions included in President Obama's recent budget request, a senior Senate Democratic aide said Thursday. Democratic budgeters are also looking at cuts that have already been adopted by the Republican House, such as a plan to strip $8.5 billion for pet projects known as earmarks out of a measure aimed at keeping the government running through Sept. 30.
"This would be a compromise," the aide said, "accepting something that they've already asked for."
The aide declined to say how much Senate Democrats are looking to cut, a critical question as lawmakers brace for a week-long game of chicken over spending. The measure that's currently financing government operations expires March 4. Unless a compromise emerges between the Republican House and Democratic Senate, the government will shut down.
Last week, the House voted to slice $61 billion from domestic budgets between March and September, a proposal the White House and congressional Democrats have derided as draconian and potentially harmful to the economy. They cited a new analysis by Goldman Sachs projecting that the House spending plan would reduce economic growth by as much as 2 percentage points in the second and third quarters, creating a significant new drag on the economy.
But many House conservatives say even $61 billion is not enough. On Thursday, they cited a new Gallup poll showing that 25 percent of those surveyed believe the Republican spending plan is about right, while 37 percent want to see spending cut even deeper.
"In other words, 62 percent say spending cuts should at least reach the level approved by the House last week," Brian Straessle, a spokesman for the conservative Republican Study Committee, said in a statement.
To give lawmakers more time to break the impasse, House leaders are developing a stopgap measure that would keep the government open for two more weeks while talks continue. But even that measure must contain cuts, House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) has said.
The GOP is working on a bill to keep the government open for two weeks that would slice $4 billion, with the goal of identifying cuts that both the White House and Senate Democrats would find acceptable, aides said. But Senate leaders have summarily dismissed that proposal as well, arguing that it represents a short-term version of the $61 billion bill Democrats have already rejected.
Read more at The Washington Post.