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U.S. Senate Leader Wants Votes on Competing Budget-Cutting Plans

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat from Nevada. Photographer: Brendan Hoffman/Bloomberg

March 5 (Bloomberg) -- The U.S. Senate’s top Democrat said he wants votes next week on competing budget-cutting plans from Democrats and Republicans, who remain more than $50 billion apart in their proposals to reduce federal spending.

Both measures are likely to fail, signaling to lawmakers -- including House Republican freshmen who are demanding big cuts - - that neither plan can get through the Senate.

“Not to spoil the surprise, but we all know how this vote will turn out -- we know neither will reach the president’s desk as written,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, said yesterday. After the votes, he said, “we at least know where we stand” and can “move this ball down the road a little further.”

Republican rejected a proposal by President Barack Obama’s administration to cut an additional $6.5 billion from the budget.

“This latest proposal is unacceptable, and it’s indefensible,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, said of the Obama offer. “The American people are tired of hearing the same tired talking points from our Democrat friends. They want action.”

House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, said “Americans have a right to know: When will Democrats get serious about cutting spending?”

Stopgap Measure

On March 2, Obama signed a stopgap measure that cut spending by $4 billion while funding most of the government at current budget levels until March 18. That leaves lawmakers two weeks to decide funding levels for the rest of the 2011 fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30, or risk a government shutdown.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers, a Kentucky Republican, said lawmakers may have to approve another short-term spending bill to buy more time for a deal.

“My goal, and I think the Republicans’ goal in the House, is to not have a government shutdown -- that’s our overriding goal,” Rogers said in an interview for C-Span’s “Newsmakers” airing this weekend.

Congressional leaders of both parties met behind closed doors with Vice President Joe Biden to begin negotiations. “The conversation will continue,” Biden said in a one-sentence statement following the meeting.

Attending the meeting with Biden were the four top congressional leaders -- Reid and McConnell from the Senate and Boehner and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, from the House -- as well as White House officials including Budget Director Jack Lew and Obama’s chief of staff, William Daley.

Alternative Plan

Senate Democrats unveiled an alternative plan that would cut $6.5 billion in spending while sparing education, health care, transportation and other programs from big cuts proposed by the House. On Feb. 19, Republicans in that chamber passed legislation cutting $61 billion out of this year’s budget -- an amount that Democrats say goes too far and would harm the economic recovery.

“We know that we have to make cuts,” Reid said. “We also know that when we cut, we have to cut in a way that strengthens our economy -- not weakens it.”

He praised a Government Accountability Office report released this week documenting scores of redundant government programs. “Those are places that we can cut money -- let’s do it,” Reid said.

Democratic Contention

Democrats contend that they are meeting Republicans halfway in their demands to cut spending by $100 billion. They say that extending current budget levels for the duration of the fiscal year amounts to $41 billion in savings compared with what Obama had sought in his original 2011 budget, released more than a year ago. That, combined with the $4 billion cut earlier this week, as well as the proposal to cut $6.5 billion more, produces more than $50 billion in savings, the Democrats say.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, a Virginia Republican, rejected the Democrats’ math. “That’s unacceptable to our side -- it’s unacceptable to the American people,” he said.

Cantor said his colleagues want the equivalent of $2 billion in cuts per week through Sept. 30.

Representative Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the House’s No. 2 Democrat, countered that Republicans were nevertheless counting the savings from current spending levels that fall short of what Obama requested in saying that they are living up to campaign promises to cut $100 billion.

Math Dispute

“While there may be some disputes on math and some other things heading into this, we remain optimistic we’re going to be able to get this done,” said White House spokesman Dan Pfeiffer.

Rogers, in the C-Span interview, suggested that it would be difficult to reach an agreement acceptable to both sides. He said that a bill splitting the difference between the $61 billion Republicans have proposed cutting and the Democratic alternative could not pass the House.

He said the 87 newly elected Republicans -- most of them fiscal conservatives -- are stiffening the party’s resolve to fight for deep cuts.

“The freshmen especially are very adamant in their views, and admirably so, and they don’t have a lot of give in their opinions about deficit spending -- but neither do I,” Rogers said. “We all are in agreement that we’ve got to cut spending and stop this spending spree that’s driving our nation into a fiscal crisis.”

To contact the reporters on this story: Brian Faler in Washington at; Julie Hirschfeld Davis in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Silva at

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