WASHINGTON – A top Senate Democrat said Friday that progress was being made in closed-door negotiations to resolve the budget impasse in Congress, but wide disparities continue to risk a government shutdown if an agreement is not reached in a matter of weeks.
“We are making some progress on the budget right now,” Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said on the MSNBC show “Morning Joe.” “We’ve moved up. … They’re moving down.”
Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va., the House majority leader, called Schumer’s comments “completely farfetched.”
He said the White House and Democratic leaders are “refusing to offer any sort of serious plan for how to cut spending.”
Congress is seeking to avoid more stopgap measures and fund the government for the remaining six months of the 2011 fiscal year. Democrats are expected to propose a package of spending cuts they believe would be acceptable to Republicans, though it will be below the $61 billion in reductions the GOP-led House has sought.
But Democrats want to look beyond the narrow slice of domestic discretionary programs that so far have been targeted by the GOP. Such programs make up just 12 percent of the budget.
It is unclear if Republicans would agree to cuts in mandatory programs such as agricultural subsidies, health or Medicare programs.
Negotiators from the offices of House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., along with the White House, have been engaged in talks.
Unable to agree on acceptable reductions in spending for the remainder of the fiscal year, which ends on Sept. 30, Congress has passed a series of temporary measures to avoid a government shutdown.
Both sides want to prevent a disruption in government services, which would occur if an agreement is not reached before April 8.
Because almost any package would face some opposition, an agreement would need to emerge in coming days to allow debate time under House and Senate rules.
Fueled by voter unrest over Washington’s fiscal deficits, House Republicans have been reluctant to move from their starting position, which would have made one of the largest one-time spending cuts of its kind.
Settling on some $30 billion in reductions might provide common ground; Republican House leaders first proposed that amount before the conservative wing of the House insisted on steeper reductions.
Also at issue are nearly 100 amendments House Republicans attached to their bill – including those that would eliminate funding for Planned Parenthood, gut the Environmental Protection Agency and defund President Barack Obama’s health care law.
Democrats in the Senate refused those provisions, but appear willing to accept less controversial ones.