WASHINGTON – House Republican leaders unveiled a short-term, stopgap spending measure Friday that retreats from some of their top political priorities, such as defunding President Barack Obama’s health care law, in the hope of averting a government shutdown by next weekend.
Even though the new proposal still would cut $4 billion in two weeks, it was quickly seized upon by Democratic leaders in the Senate, who control the majority, as a step toward a potential compromise.
Both sides have been working behind the scenes as Congress tries to resolve a budget impasse before current spending expires next Friday. Even as they negotiate, however, they have blamed one another for the possibility of a federal government shutdown.
A House vote on the latest proposal could come as early as Tuesday.
“Let me be clear: A government shutdown is not an acceptable or responsible option for Republicans,” said Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va., the House majority leader. “That’s why we’re producing yet another (continuing resolution) that will keep the government running for the next two weeks, while cutting spending, so that we can begin to live within our means just like every business and family throughout the country.”
A spokesman for Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., the Senate majority leader, said the new proposal indicates that Republicans have backed away from what Democrats characterize as the party’s “my way or the highway” approach.
“We are encouraged to hear that Republicans are abandoning their demands for extreme measures, like cuts to border security, cancer research and food safety inspectors, and instead moving closer to Democrats’ position that we should cut government spending in a smart, responsible way,” said Reid spokesman Jon Summers.
The proposal unveiled Friday relies on a different approach to spending cuts compared to the House GOP’s spending measure adopted last week, which cut more than $60 billion.
The new, short-term measure would cut $4 billion in the next two weeks by terminating programs Obama identified for elimination in next year’s budget and by killing earmarks – special expenditures members of Congress have requested for their home states.
Among the eight programs that would be eliminated are those providing for highway spending, a literacy program, election assistance grants, broadband loan subsidies and funds for the Smithsonian Arts and Industries landmark on the National Mall.
But it excludes top Republican priorities, such as defunding the health care law, pre-empting Environmental Protection Agency regulations of greenhouse gases, and cutting funds for Planned Parenthood.
Republican leaders now must try to ensure that their rank-and-file members and conservative supporters will back the proposal.
The party’s ranks include new members who won their elections last year with tea party support and who were instrumental in forcing a more severe cost-cutting proposal than Republican leadership originally envisioned.
To lay the groundwork for next week’s vote, Republican leaders convened a conference call with members on Thursday to present the contours of the newest stopgap measure.
Many conservatives and tea party activists have openly advocated a government shutdown. But GOP leaders now are confident their ranks understand the importance of approving a temporary plan to avert a shutdown – even if the proposal fails to include top Republican priorities.
They also expect that their members will allow votes on the new proposal even without the open debate and amendment process that GOP leaders have promised.
The House Republican leaders worked with counterparts in the Senate to craft the potential compromise.
The proposal does not end the debate. Democrats in the Senate intend next week to unveil their own stopgap measure that would freeze spending at current levels for 30 days, and the two sides must overcome deep divisions to adopt a spending measure that will last until October.