The Senate appears likely to reject both a slashing GOP budget bill and a less ambitious Democratic alternative.
Democrats are poised to dismiss as going too far a House GOP plan that would cut domestic agencies by 13 percent, on average. Republicans say a Democratic measure unveiled last week doesn't do enough as the government piles up budget deficits.
The idea behind the votes anticipated as early as Tuesday _ they have yet to be scheduled and could be delayed _ is to prod the Obama administration, Republicans dominating the House and the Democratic-led Senate to settle gaping differences. The goal is a measure setting agency operating budgets through the end of the fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30.
Looming in the background is the issue of keeping the government running after a short-term funding measure expires in two weeks. Another bill would be necessary to prevent a government shutdown, which neither side claims is desirable.
Democrats say the votes in the Senate would demonstrate to tea party-backed House GOP freshmen that their bill is a dead issue in the Senate and that they need to move closer to their demands for smaller budget cuts.
Neither measure can muster the 60 votes required under Senate procedures to advance; not a single Democrat is likely to vote for the GOP measure, and some may shy away from the Democratic bill as well. That could put pressure on House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, as well as other congressional leaders of both parties to find a compromise.
"I'm sure that Speaker Boehner will be sitting down with his caucus and say: `Well, what's our next position? Where do we go from here?'" said Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate leadership.
By the same standard, the vote on the Senate Democratic alternative _ it would cut about $5 billion from domestic agencies compared with about $60 billion under the House GOP plan _ is unlikely to get unanimous support from Democrats, especially moderates up for re-election in 2012.
Once such Democrat, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, said the Democratic measure "doesn't go far enough" but she hadn't decided whether to support it.
White House press secretary Jay Carney said Tuesday's vote would be an "important milestone" in the negotiations, which began last week and continue on the staff level even as the administration's lead negotiator, Vice President Joe Biden, is on a diplomatic mission in Europe.
Republicans seized on comments made by Durbin on "Fox News Sunday" in which he said the measure unveiled by Democrats on Friday goes far enough. "I think we've pushed this to the limit," Durbin said.
The House GOP measure makes sweeping cuts to domestic programs whose budgets are set each year by Congress, including politically sensitive programs like Head Start for preschoolers from poor families and Pell Grants for low-income college students. Money for food inspection, enforcing environmental regulations, grants to local schools and police and fire departments, and community development grants for local governments would also be sharply reduced.
The Democratic alternative would cut spending by $11 billion from last year's levels and limit increases for the Pentagon's core military operations to just 1 percent, far less than increases received in previous years.
The Senate Democratic plan falls well shy of the cuts sought by Republicans but demonstrates considerable movement from where the party was last year when it sought to pass an omnibus spending bill with a price tag $30 billion higher than the current measure. Senate Republicans blocked the effort.