Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid called on Republicans to abandon their push for policy limits on the Environmental Protection Agency in talks on a proposed $33 billion spending-cut plan designed to end debate on this year’s budget.
“Neither the White House nor the Senate leaders are going to accept any EPA riders they have in their bill,” Reid, a Nevada Democrat, said in a conference call yesterday with reporters.
The so-called riders added to a budget the Republican- controlled House passed in February include a provision barring the EPA from regulating greenhouse gases and a ban on agency plans to clean up the Chesapeake Bay.
Democrats and Republicans are working on a 2011 budget to avoid a government shutdown when current spending authority ends April 8. President Barack Obama said administration and congressional negotiators are “getting close to an agreement.”
“There’s still details and differences to work out,” Obama said at an event yesterday in Landover, Maryland.
House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, said at a news conference his goal is to cut spending, not close the government, even as he stressed Republicans haven’t agreed to any aspects of a deal. “I am not preparing for a government shutdown,” he said.
Lawmakers have enacted $10 billion in cuts thus far for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, and the plan negotiators are weighing would raise that total to about $33 billion.
Obama made a plea to keep the levels he has requested for government spending on programs such as education, energy innovation and infrastructure.
Even with efforts to cut the federal deficit, “it’s in our national interest to make these investments” to compete with economic rivals such as China and India, the president said. “We can’t afford to fall behind.”
A number of differences are holding up a final deal.
The environmental policy directives sought by House Republicans include one that would bar the EPA from moving ahead with plans to classify fly ash -- a byproduct of coal-fired power plants -- as hazardous waste. Other policy provisions, including a ban on funding to Planned Parenthood, which provides abortions, also are opposed by Democrats in any final deal, Reid said.
“We have said time and time again that riders that are ridiculous in nature -- and most of them are -- have no chance of surviving,” said Reid.
The two sides disagree over whether to decrease spending only for programs approved at Congress’s discretion, a step favored by House Republicans who campaigned last year on pledges to cut $100 billion in such domestic programs.
Democrats are pushing to take as much as $13 billion of the $33 billion from programs whose spending levels are mandated outside yearly budgets, according to an official participating in the talks. Such programs include the Medicaid and Medicare entitlements as well as some initiatives important to Republicans, such as farm aid and defense.
Republicans oppose cutting mandatory-spending money. Boehner yesterday reiterated his view that “we’re dealing with the discretionary part of the budget.”
Senate Democrats said many of the cuts must come from entitlements, also called “mandatory” spending programs.
“We’re going to insist that mandatory savings be part of any deal because otherwise the cuts become so deep on certain programs that they cut to the bone,” said Senator Charles Schumer of New York, the Senate’s third-ranking Democratic leader.
Talks on the budget will continue today and tomorrow, Boehner said, while adding that he won’t be present for them. “I am not going to be in D.C. for the negotiations this weekend,” he said in his comments to reporters.
The possible deal is proving a tough sell with some House Republican freshmen and other fiscal conservatives.
Representative Joe Walsh, a freshman Republican from Illinois, said in an interview March 31 he wasn’t interested in splitting the difference on budget cuts.
“The American people want us to be bolder than that,” Walsh said. “I didn’t come here to just nickel and dime this stuff.”
Representative Jack Kingston, a Georgia Republican, told reporters, “I don’t think it’s going to fly unless you got some real defunding” provisions, such as one targeting Planned Parenthood.
Boehner yesterday reminded Tea Party-backed Republicans that “there are a lot of problems with shutting the government down,” and that “if you shut the government down, it will end up costing more.” He also stressed the importance of moving on to a debate over next fiscal year’s budget and plans to boost the nation’s $14.3 trillion debt ceiling.
To dramatize their attacks on the Democrat-controlled Senate for inaction, House Republicans yesterday passed symbolic legislation that would deem their $61 billion package of spending cuts as the law unless the Senate acts by April 6, two days before the current government funding expires.
Democrats argued that the Government Shutdown Prevention Act, which passed 221-202, is unconstitutional because it wouldn’t require passage by both chambers of Congress for the spending cuts to become law.
“We do not have a unicameral legislative body,” said House Assistant Democratic Leader James Clyburn of South Carolina. He called the legislation an April Fool’s Day joke. “I know it’s April 1,” he said. “So maybe that’s the point.”
Reid said talks must wrap up soon to keep government agencies operating. Democrats and the White House, he said, won’t support another stopgap measure late next week unless a tentative deal has been reached.
“The only way we would have a short-term is if it were necessary to finalize the paperwork on the agreement,” Reid said. “Otherwise, we feel, and the president feels, that we have had enough” stopgap bills.
Since the fiscal year began on Oct. 1, Congress has approved six temporary measures to keep the government going.
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