Budget battle headed for Senate showdown votes

Reuters News
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Posted: Mar 21, 2011 2:54 PM

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The battle over federal spending cuts will reach the Senate floor next week for votes, with Republicans and President Barack Obama's Democrats far apart on a deal needed to avert a government shutdown, congressional aides said on Friday.

Republicans, who made big gains in the November 2 congressional elections, have proposed steep cuts to the federal government's budget to narrow its gaping deficit, while Democrats have agreed to only a fraction of the cuts.

Failure to reach an agreement before March 18, when a temporary government funding bill expires, could force the government to shut down non-essential services and lay off hundreds of thousands of workers.

The Senate is likely to vote next week on a new Democratic proposal for an additional $6.5 billion in cuts this year, and a bill passed by the Republican-led House of Representatives that would slash nearly ten times that much -- $61 billion, the aides said, asking not to be identified.

Both measures seem certain to fall short of the needed 60 votes in the 100-member, Democratic-led Senate to clear a procedural hurdle, the officials said.

The votes, however, would demonstrate the need for the House and Senate to focus on a compromise and perhaps spur lawmakers into more fruitful negotiations. No specific day has been set for a vote.

Vice President Joe Biden met with top House and Senate Republican and Democratic leaders on Thursday in an opening round of White House-led talks.

"We had a good meeting, and the conversation will continue," Biden said in a statement afterward.

There was no word on when they would meet again, but a congressional official said much of the work, at least for now, would be done by staffers.

Earlier this week, Congress approved an initial $4 billion in cuts that prevented a government shutdown this weekend.

The bill that passed the House would cut $61 billion through September. But Obama and his Democrats say that is too much.

The White House said on Thursday it made a counter offer of $6.5 billion in cuts in federal programs this year. But many Republicans have shown little willingness to soften their proposals for deep spending cuts.

(Reporting by Thomas Ferraro; Editing by Paul Simao)