WASHINGTON -- House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) acknowledged the obvious on Sunday: The resolution he and his colleagues passed Saturday morning to keep the government funded would not survive the Senate in its current form.
But in gaming out how Congress will negotiate a continuing resolution before the current one runs out on March 4, the Wisconsin Republican provided some telling hints. GOP leadership, he said, would accept a short-term extension of funds to keep the government running while negotiations with the Senate on a long-term deal continued. Those funds, however, could not be at the same level as the current continuing resolution; they'd have to contain cuts.
"Well, our goal is to bring spending back down to pre-bailout, pre-stimulus spending levels, 2008 levels," Ryan said on CBS's "Face the Nation." "My guess is we'll probably have some short-term extensions while we negotiate these things with spending cuts. We don't want to accept these extremely high, elevated levels and so we're going to have to start negotiating on these things not just with the Senate but also with the president as well. I'm not going to go through negotiating through the media, with all due respect, but we are not going to accept these extremely high levels of spending. We're not looking for a government shutdown. And I think we'll have some negotiations with short-term spending cuts in the interim is my guess."
Ryan's remarks suggest that, even as the alarm on funding the government is set to go off, Congress is prepared to hit the proverbial snooze button. A short-term extension of funds is something that House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) had been hesitant to embrace, though late Friday he said he'd back a stopgap that came in lower than current spending levels. Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) proposed an extension of current funding until March 31. But Republicans said they would not be satisfied without securing some cuts.
How modest or bold those cuts on a funding stopgap should be will quickly become the focal point of the debate, as lawmakers work with the Senate to find a more lasting resolution.
"I don't think the Senate will pass this cut," Ryan said. "We will have to negotiate. Look, we're not looking for a government shutdown. But at the same time we're also not looking at rubber stamping these really high, elevated spending levels that Congress blew through the joint two years ago."
This piece has been updated to more closely characterize Speaker Boehner's position.
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