Parties at odds over deal to avert govt shutdown

Reuters News
Posted: Apr 03, 2011 12:11 PM
Parties at odds over deal to avert govt shutdown

By James Vicini and Kim Dixon

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Lawmakers clashed on Sunday over where to slash spending to avoid a potential government shutdown next week while a bigger political battle loomed over next year's budget.

Republicans and Democrats have tentatively agreed to $33 billion in spending cuts for the rest of this year, which would be the largest domestic spending reduction in U.S. history, but lawmakers said they have yet to reach a deal on exactly what programs will be cut and by how much.

The U.S. government runs out of cash when a short-term funding measure expires on April 8. U.S. President Barack Obama told Republican and Democratic leaders of Congress on Saturday that time was running short to agree on a budget deal to avoid a government shutdown that would undermine economic growth.

Neither party wants to cause a government shutdown that could lead to thousands of layoffs when voters are already nervous about the shaky economic recovery and rising gas prices brought on by political unrest in the Middle East.

Several lawmakers said on Sunday talk shows they believed a shutdown could still be averted.

"We've agreed on a number. Let's work to get that number done," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said on CBS's "Face the Nation" program, blaming the conservative Tea Party movement for standing in the way of a deal.

"The Republican leadership in the House has to make a decision: Whether it will do the right thing for the country or do the right thing for the Tea Party," Reid said.

Senator Jeff Sessions, the top Republican on the budget committee, said he believes a deal could be reached but said Democrats are not making the making hard decisions.

"This is more than a Republican, Democratic squabble. The fundamental question is, are we headed to a financial crisis if we don't get off the fiscal course we are on?," Sessions said on ABC's "This Week."

At the same time, Senate Democratic Leader Dick Durbin said he would oppose any Republican effort to cut government spending this year for environmental regulation or birth control, so-called policy riders some Republicans want to add to a short-term deal.

"Some of the spending cuts suggested go way, way too far," Durbin said on NBC's "Meet the Press.


While lawmakers still must hammer out a deal on this year's budget to avoid a shutdown, Republicans and Democrats said a bigger battle is in store over next year's budget.

The Republican's 2012 budget plan will cut the U.S. deficit by more than $4 trillion over the next decade and will exceed goals of a presidential deficit commission, Representative Paul Ryan said on "Fox News Sunday".

"We're looking at more than that right now," Ryan, chairman of the House of Representatives Budget Committee, said of his plan which is expected on Tuesday. "We're fine tuning our numbers with the Congressional Budget Office literally today ... but we're going to be cutting a lot more than that."

But Durbin, who is working with a small group of bipartisan senators on ways to cut the deficit, said he had problems with Ryan's proposals.

"We'll come at it differently," he said, citing Pentagon cuts and requiring the wealthiest Americans to pay more in taxes rather than deep cuts in government social programs.

The deficit commission late last year backed a series of bold proposals to cut the deficit by $4 trillion over a decade by trimming tax breaks, raising the retirement age for Social Security and other politically unpopular proposals.

Ryan said his plan would put caps on discretionary spending over the next five years.

The Republican said his proposal would also tackle Medicare and Medicaid programs for the retired and the poor, though he said the changes would not impact anyone already over retirement age.

Congressional Democrats who saw Republicans punished by voters after a 1995 shutdown when Democrat Bill Clinton was president are eager to place the blame on Republicans once again. The budget battles have become a major political issue ahead of the 2012 elections.

(Editing by Deborah Charles)