WASHINGTON -- High-stakes negotiations have begun between leading House Republicans and Senate Democrats on a temporary backstop that would keep the federal government from running out of money and shutting down.
The talks revolve around a short-term "continuing resolution" that would fund government activities through at least the end of March. Currently, funds are set to run out on March 4.
The extended window would help give lawmakers additional time to broker a deal for a longer-term resolution that would keep the government funded through Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year, in lieu of a formal budget.
But while CNN reported Monday that a deal on that longer-term resolution seemed likely -- quoting a Senate Democratic leadership aide saying that the party would "probably accept" spending language authored by Republicans -- some on the Hill remain unconvinced that a resolution is in the offing.
"That story isn't entirely accurate," a Senate Democratic aide told The Huffington Post. "For one, on the short-term CR, we still hold our position that we are already bringing $41 billion in cuts to the table. These are the same cuts the Republicans and Democrats agreed to in December and are the same cuts that Republicans factor into their cuts to get to $100 billion. We need a short-term CR that gives us time to negotiate a longer-term solution."
As the clock ticks toward a government shutdown, the most pressing question is how willing Democrats will be to cut deeper than $41 billion. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) told the Wall Street Journal that it "makes sense," during the short-term, to "stay at the $41 billion level," but House Republicans seem equally convinced that their proposed $100 billion in cuts should be the baseline.
One top GOP aide insisted it would be disingenuous for Senate Democrats to call their proposal a "cut" considering it was based off a 2011 budget that was never enacted and contained elevated spending levels. "Democrats are arguing to lock in increased spending levels," the aide said.
Meanwhile, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), said in a statement Tuesday that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) "almost seems as though he's hoping for a government shutdown to occur for political gain."
For all the dramatic rhetoric, however, the prospects for a short-term agreement aren't entirely remote, according to the aforementioned Senate Democratic aide. Both sides understand, the aide said, that negotiations surrounding the longer-term funding measure will require more than the next two weeks, and are willing to give themselves more time to talk.
UPDATE: Sure enough, on Tuesday morning Majority Leader Reid announced that he was proposing a 30-day budget extension that contained no cutbacks in an effort to create more time for negotiations on a longer-term fix.
To avoid a shutdown and give us time to negotiate a responsible path forward, I have asked Sen. Inouye, Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, to prepare a clean Continuing Resolution that I can bring to the floor next week. Since this bill is intended to fund vital services like Social Security, our military and border security, it should have no legislation or riders tied to it. This bill will include the $41 billion in budget cuts that Democrats and Republicans agreed to in December, and will keep the government running for 30 days while both sides can negotiate a common-sense, long-term solution. I have asked my chief of staff, David Krone, to begin negotiations with Speaker Boehner's chief of staff, Barry Jackson, to craft a long-term continuing resolution that cuts waste and excess, while protecting the initiatives that keep us safe, put Americans back to work and keep our economy on the right track.
FURTHER UPDATE: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) responds by calling a short-term resolution that kept funding at current levels "unacceptable."
The American people spoke loud and clear: stop the Washington spending spree and bring down the debt. Yet Washington Democrats can't find a single dime of federal spending to cut, insisting on the status quo, even for a short-term spending bill. But keeping bloated spending levels in place and, predictably, proposing even more tax increases, is simply unacceptable.
Washington has to stop the spending increases and start shrinking the ruinous federal debt. That's the key to getting the economy back on track and creating the conditions that will lead to private-sector job growth.
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