March 11 (Bloomberg) -- House Republicans proposed a stopgap budget measure to fund the government until April 8 while lawmakers try to work out their differences on spending for the rest of the fiscal year. The Senate’s Democratic leader said he supports the plan.
The bill would cut about $6 billion in spending, in part by ending or reducing funds for 25 programs. Most of those changes have been endorsed by President Barack Obama or Senate Democrats. About $2.6 billion of the reduction would be made by rescinding unspent funds for lawmakers’ pet projects.
“While short-term funding measures are not the preferable way to fund the government, we must maintain critical programs and services for the American people until Congress comes to a final, long-term agreement,” said House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers, a Kentucky Republican. “A government shutdown is not an option.”
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, endorsed the legislation, saying in a statement he is “glad we were able to come to an agreement with Republicans” on cuts “already proposed by Democrats.”
The bill, to be put to a vote next week, would replace the current funding measure that expires March 18. It would be the sixth stopgap measure since the fiscal year began Oct. 1. By cutting $2 billion per week, it would keep Republicans on track to cut $61 billion this year.
Democrats and Republicans remain far apart on how to fund the government through September. Lawmakers are arguing over which side should make the next move after a House-approved plan to cut $61 billion and a Democratic alternative were defeated this week in the Senate.
Democrats said it’s up to House Republicans to show flexibility after the Senate made clear their plan wasn’t viable in that chamber.
“We’re looking for a counteroffer,” Representative Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the second-ranking Democrat, said today.
“Are you prepared to move?” Hoyer asked Majority Leader Eric Cantor on the House floor. “I’m asking you and I can’t get an answer and you apparently are not going to make a counteroffer.”
Cantor said it’s up to Senate Democrats to produce a budget-cutting plan that can clear the chamber that could provide the basis of negotiations with the House.
“There is really no offer on the table that is valid because it can’t pass the Senate,” said Cantor of Virginia. “What is the Democratic Senate’s offer?”
Obama today urged lawmakers to work out a deal, saying the public expects them to “stop with the political bickering.” He said, “We can’t keep on running the government on two-week extensions. That’s irresponsible.”
“The notion that we can’t get resolved last year’s budget in a sensible way with serious but prudent spending cuts, I think, defies common sense,” Obama said. “It shouldn’t be that complicated.”
The short-term measure introduced today would rescind funding set aside to implement a greenhouse gas “cap and trade” program that was never enacted, unspent funding to fight wildfires as well as a little-used steel loan program, among other changes.
Senator John McCain, an Arizona Republican, said he will attempt to amend the new short-term proposal to fund the Pentagon for the rest of the year.
“We can’t subject our nation’s national security to a two-week by two-week process,” McCain said. “It is not the way the Defense Department can function and this nation can defend itself and its vital security interests.”
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