By Thomas Ferraro and Susan Cornwell
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Republicans denounced as inadequate on Friday a White House proposal to cut an additional $6.5 billion out of this year's federal budget, as the battle over spending cuts headed toward Senate votes next week.
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell dismissed the offer by Democratic President Barack Obama's White House as a "status quo spending plan," a day after Vice President Joe Biden met congressional leaders to try to reach a deal and avert a government shutdown.
House Speaker John Boehner called Biden's offer "indefensible and unacceptable."
Republicans, who made big gains in the November 2 congressional elections, have proposed much steeper cuts to narrow the record $1.650 trillion budget deficit for this fiscal year. But with votes apparently lacking in the Senate to pass the steep spending cuts Republicans want, Boehner and McConnell will have to negotiate a deal with Democrats to stave off government shutdowns.
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.
McConnell, in remarks on the Senate floor, noted that House Republicans had proposed reducing spending by $61 billion in fiscal 2011, which ends Sept 30.
"The White House proposal as outlined by the president's economic adviser yesterday is to cut another six billion and call it a day," McConnell said. "The latest proposal is unacceptable and it is indefensible," he said, using language identical to Boehner's.
The number two Democrat in the Senate, Richard Durbin, countered that Republicans were trying to cut investments needed to get the U.S. economy out of recession.
VOTES NEXT WEEK
Next week the Senate is likely to take votes on the Democratic proposal for an additional $6.5 billion in cuts this year, as well as the House-passed bill to cut $61 billion, congressional aides said.
Neither measure was expected to succeed. Both seemed certain to fall short of the needed 60 votes in the 100-member, Democratic-led Senate to clear a procedural hurdle, the officials said.
But they said the failed votes would demonstrate the need for the House and Senate to focus on a compromise and perhaps spur lawmakers into more fruitful negotiations.
Durbin said Democrats "concede that point that the deficit is a major issue."
But he could not support the House Republican bill that cuts $61 billion from the budget for the rest of this year because it "takes money out of key investments in our economy at a time when we need them the most," he said.
Durbin said he would continue working with a bipartisan group of senators to try to find a compromise that would cut the budget in a "responsible" way, not just cut one part of it "unmercifully."
Earlier this week, Congress approved an initial $4 billion in cuts that prevented a government shutdown this weekend.
(Editing by Philip Barbara)