House Leaders Weigh U.S. Spending Bill Below $1 Trillion

U.S. House Republican leaders are considering a stopgap measure to fund the government for the rest of the fiscal year that could drop spending levels below $1 trillion.

The measure, known as a continuing resolution, would fund the government through Sept. 30 at about $974 billion, well below the current level of $1.043 trillion, Representative James Lankford, an Oklahoma Republican, said yesterday.

“It’s a serious cut,” Lankford, a member of the House Budget Committee, said in an interview. “That’s significant.”

While not providing a precise figure, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, a Virginia Republican, said today in an interview that spending levels will come down.

Lankford said House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, is running through all possible scenarios as two fiscal deadlines near. Automatic spending cuts stemming from a 2011 budget agreement are scheduled to take effect March 1, and legislation funding government operations expires on March 27.

A House stopgap budget that called for deep spending cuts through the end of the 2013 fiscal year would have difficulty passing the Democratic-controlled Senate, posing the risk of a government shutdown when the current spending bill expires.

House Republican leaders are seeking ways to extract spending cuts from the White House and Senate Democrats as the fiscal deadlines approach.

Automatic Cuts

The stopgap spending bill being considered would be at lower levels because House Republicans are working under the expectation that automatic spending reductions, known as sequestration, will take effect March 1.

“The sequester is here,” Cantor said in an interview today. “The president has been absent in terms of any willingness to discuss an alternative in terms of the reduction in spending. The ball is in his court. We’ll see whether he’s serious about trying to do something about the deficit.”

The automatic spending cuts of about $1.2 trillion over the next decade would lower the fiscal year 2013 budget authority to $974 billion, Lankford said.

Representative Tom Cole, an Oklahoma Republican and member of the House Appropriations panel, said in an interview that he doesn’t have “ any doubt” that the spending bill “will reflect what we do on sequester.”

The House may end up replacing the stopgap funding measure later in the year if the House and Senate reach a deal on an alternative to the automatic spending cuts, half of which would come out of the defense budget, Lankford said.

‘Better Resolution’

“Hopefully we’ll find some better resolution,” Lankford said. He said the preferred approach would be “something more strategic,” such as a budget blueprint that “has a plan of where we are going to go long term.”

House Republican leaders, weakened by President Barack Obama’s re-election and Democratic gains in the House and Senate in November’s election, are resigned to accepting the automatic cuts rather than risking a deal with Obama that would mean higher taxes. Democrats see little political benefit in accepting Republican offers to forestall the reductions in exchange for cuts to entitlement programs such as Medicare.

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