WASHINGTON -- House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) upped the chances of a government shutdown Thursday, saying he would not support a short-term funding bill if his near-certain budget battle between the House and the Democratic-run Senate takes longer than two weeks.
As the clock ticks down to March 4, when the current stopgap funding measure expires, Boehner shot down what many considered to be the surest way to keep government agencies running while the two chambers hammer out the differences between their respective spending bills.
"We are hopeful that the Senate will take up the House‑passed bill that comes out of here today, tonight, tomorrow morning, whenever it is, and we hope that they will move it," he said at a press conference. "But I am not going to move any kind of short‑term CR at current levels. When we say we're going to cut spending, read my lips: We are going to cut spending."
The House GOP version of the CR, or "continuing resolution," which would fund the government in lieu of a formal budget through the end of the current fiscal year on Sept. 30, would cut some $60 billion from current funding levels, though there are further amendments on the table.
In any of its likely forms, however, the bill will face strong opposition from the Senate, where Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has called the House GOP's funding plan irresponsible and extreme. President Barack Obama said on Tuesday he would veto the House's bill if it made it to his desk.
Taking the possibility of a short-term continuing resolution off the table drastically reduces the timeline for reaching a compromise. Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho), head of the House Appropriations subcommittee on Interior and the Environment, told reporters last week that he expected leadership to pass such a short-term measure.
"Leadership does not want a government shutdown," he said. "Could it ultimately end up there? Sure, it's possible. But most people realize it's going to take us some time to try to get a conference report" -- that is, a compromise bill.
If a government shutdown occurs, thousands of government programs would shut down immediately, with workers and contractors losing their paychecks until funding started up again, at which point they would be paid retroactively.
If the House GOP's spending plan is passed as is, economists estimate that 1 million Americans could lose their jobs. Boehner, who previously said "so be it" when presented with the possibility of public-sector job losses resulting from budget cuts, seemed to stand behind that sentiment on Thursday.
"I don't want anyone to lose their job, whether they're a federal employee or not," he said at the press conference. "But come on! We're broke! We've got to make tough decisions."
Following the press conference, the Associated Press reported that Boehner quickly walked off stage, saying "I can't believe I just said that."
His office did not immediately return a request to clarify what he meant by that remark.
UPDATE: Reid's office issued a statement in response to Boehner's comments. "I am disappointed that Speaker Boehner doesn’t believe he has the votes to avoid a government shutdown unless his members get their way on all of their demands," Reid said. "It is unproductive to resort to threats of a shutdown without any negotiations.”