Congress to buy more time for budget dispute

Reuters News
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Posted: Mar 22, 2011 12:22 PM

By Andy Sullivan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Congress is expected to buy itself more time on Thursday to work out a much-delayed budget deal as the costs of the stalemate are increasingly being felt across the globe.

The Senate is expected to pass a sixth stopgap bill that would keep the government running through April 8, more than six months after the fiscal year began. The House of Representatives passed the measure on Tuesday.

Republicans who control the House and Democrats who control the Senate need to resolve a $50 billion gap between their two spending plans. While Republicans are eager to keep a campaign promise to scale back the size of government, Democrats worry that sharp cuts would imperil the shaky economic recovery.

If the latest stopgap measure passes, Republicans will have managed to trim $10 billion from the budget, mostly in noncontroversial areas backed by President Barack Obama. Further cuts are likely to encounter greater resistance.

After months of fiery rhetoric, congressional leaders and the White House suggest that they are making progress.

"We would like to come to an agreement as soon as possible," House Speaker John Boehner said on Wednesday.

Many lawmakers are growing increasingly impatient with the standoff.

Some 54 conservative Republicans split with Boehner and other party leaders to vote against the stopgap bill on Tuesday, while senior lawmakers like House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer and House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers have said they will not vote for another extension.

Lawmakers have extended last year's budget to ensure that government agencies can continue to function during the standoff. But agency heads say that approach has made it difficult for them to shift money where it is most needed, leading to layoffs, delayed construction projects and reduced scientific research.

(Additional reporting by Thomas Ferraro; editing by Todd Eastham)