Shutdown Showdown: Stalemate Thaws As Democrats “Encouraged” By New GOP Proposal

By Matt Jaffe

Feb 25, 2011 5:35pm

ABC News’ John R. Parkinson & Matthew Jaffe report:

The prospect of a government shutdown one week from today appeared to become less likely Friday as Republicans unveiled a new short-term spending proposal that earned praise from Democrats.

The GOP’s latest proposal – a two-week spending bill with $4 billion in cuts – was designed to be hard for Democrats to resist because it is full of cuts they had already supported. For instance, the Republicans’ plan included $1.24 billion in cuts proposed by President Obama in his 2012 budget and about $2.7 billion in cuts to earmarks that both parties have already renounced.

“The American people want the government to stay open and they want us to cut spending,” Speaker of the House John Boehner said in a statement. “These stop-gap measures are only necessary because the Democrats who run Washington failed to pass a budget, failed to stop the spending binge that’s threatened job growth, and failed to lead.”

The House will come back into session on Monday and is expected to complete debate and vote on the two-week extension on Tuesday. Boehner predicted they would pass it in short order and called on Senate Democrats to follow suit.

“Once the House passes our second continuing resolution early next week, I’m hopeful Senator Reid will quickly hold a vote on our short-term proposal so we can ensure the government remains open and that we’re addressing the need to cut spending to create a better environment for job growth,” Boehner, R-Ohio, said.

Judging from their response to the GOP’s plan, it’s clear Democrats are indeed warming up to it. Case in point: now they’re using words like “encouraged” and “moving closer” and “good idea.”

“We are encouraged to hear that Republicans are abandoning their demands for extreme measures like cuts to border security, cancer research and food safety inspectors and instead moving closer to Democrats’ position that we should cut government spending in a smart, responsible way that targets waste and excess while keeping our economy growing,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s spokesman Jon Summers said in a statement Friday.

In fact, Democrats argued, the GOP’s new plan is just “a modified version” of what they have been proposing all along.

“The plan Republicans are floating today sounds like a modified version of what Democrats were talking about. We’re glad they think it’s a good idea, but we should keep our focus on what we need to do to cut spending and keep our economy growing in the long-term. If we need a little more time to agree on a responsible path forward, we should pass a short-term CR for no longer than the next month,” Summers stated.

The government is set to shut down at the end of Friday March 4 if lawmakers cannot agree on a way to extend federal funding before then. But whereas earlier this week the two parties seemed to be moving further apart – more interested in preemptively blaming the other side for a shutdown than working towards an agreement – Republicans and Democrats now appear to be starting to come together, with a week still left to go.

A short ways down Pennsylvania Ave, the White House voiced confidence that the parties would come to an agreement.

“We believe that a compromise can be reached. But I'm not going to speculate on a position, what position we may or may not hold down the road,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said.

Noting that the Republicans’ proposal included bipartisan ideas to slash spending, the Senate’s top Republican Mitch McConnell also struck an optimistic tone.

“President Obama and congressional Democrats agree with Republicans that these are potential areas to reduce spending, removing any excuses they have offered for demanding their status quo spending levels,” McConnell, R-Kentucky, said. “As a result, there is now a clear path to finishing this short-term measure before the March 4th deadline.”

“A government shutdown is not an acceptable or responsible option for Republicans, and that's why we're producing yet another CR that will keep the government running for the next two weeks, while cutting spending, so that we can begin to live within our means just like every business and family throughout the country,” House Majority Leader Eric Cantor said Friday morning.

However, if both sides cannot agree on a funding extension before next Saturday March 5th the government would shut down for the first time since 1996.

Once lawmakers return to Capitol Hill on Monday, the Senate is going to get right down to work on extending funding, right? Not exactly. Senators are going to first take up a patent reform bill instead.

Meanwhile, Boehner and Reid might be able to buy more time to negotiate a long-term extension and avert a political showdown, but it seems as if Congressional Democrats and Republicans are still far apart on an agreement to cut down government spending over the long-run.

“While Republicans have now proposed a two week extension to keep the government open, we must stay focused on reaching a compromise to fund the government for the remainder of the fiscal year [through Sept. 30]," House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Maryland, said in a statement Friday evening. "Republicans must abandon the extreme and arbitrary cuts they called for in their spending bill that passed the House last week, and move closer to Democrats’ position of cutting spending in a smart, targeted way."

"I have talked to members of the Republican leadership, and I am hopeful we can resolve our differences on a long-term measure quickly so that we are not forced to continue funding the government in disruptive two-week increments that undermine efficiency," Hoyer added.

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