Obama Won’t Sign Republican Spending Bills, Official Says

President Barack Obama won’t sign spending bills being written by House Republicans, the administration warned, escalating a budget fight that raises the possibility of a government shutdown later this year.

Acting White House Budget Office Director Jeffrey Zients said yesterday that the administration won’t accept any of the dozen spending bills House Republicans are working on unless they agree to abide by a budget deal reached last year.

Democrats have maintained Republicans are reneging on the budget agreement by announcing that they will cut total spending on the bills to fund government agencies by $19 billion. Republicans say the limit set last year was meant to be the maximum spending allowed, not the precise amount to be spent.

“These funding levels will mean deep and painful cuts in investments that America needs to succeed,” Zients wrote in a letter to lawmakers. “Until the House of Representatives indicates that it will abide by last summer’s agreement, the president will not be able to sign any appropriations bills.”

The dispute may lead to a government shutdown shortly before the November elections because lawmakers need to agree on legislation to keep the government operating in the 2013 fiscal year, which starts Oct. 1.

The president won’t accept individual spending bills even if they provide adequate funding without an agreement on total spending, said Zients. That’s because increasing funding in one measure would only require “deeper, more problematic cuts” in others, he said.

Higher Spending Total

The administration received a boost today when Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and most other Republicans on the chamber’s Appropriations Committee voted to stick with the higher spending total. The panel’s vote was 28-2, with Republicans Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and Jerry Moran of Kansas opposed.

“Both the Republican-led House and the Democrat-led Senate support completing appropriations bills to fund the federal government in a responsible and timely manner,” said Jennifer Hing, a spokeswoman for House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers, a Kentucky Republican.

“When appropriations bills pass both the House and the Senate, the president can choose to sign them, or he can choose to shut down the federal government, put our people at risk, and imperil our economic recovery,” she said.

Funding Levels

Both chambers are starting to consider the appropriations bills that will establish funding levels for hundreds of government programs. The Senate Appropriations Committee today approved bills funding the departments of Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, Commerce, Justice and other programs.

Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, who sits on the panel, said the bottom line is that “we agreed on a number.”

“Now if they want to re-litigate this and threaten to shut down the government, it’s going to remind people of those dark days last year when we couldn’t get anything right on Capitol Hill, before the president forged this agreement,” Durbin said in a Bloomberg Television interview today.

Meanwhile, Senate Republicans have criticized Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, a North Dakota Democrat, for yesterday offering as his budget proposal a tax-and-spending plan based on recommendations by the leaders of Obama’s debt-reduction commission.

Conrad said he advanced the plan, which the committee took up yesterday, to spur debate on what to do about a number of major budget issues lawmakers must address, including the Bush-era income tax cuts that expire at the end of the year. He said he didn’t expect his colleagues to adopt the plan any time soon.

The proposal by former Wyoming Senator Alan Simpson, a Republican, and former Clinton White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles, a Democrat, would have reduced the budget deficit by $3.9 trillion over 10 years through a combination of spending cuts, tax increases and reduced interest payments.

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