Congress & WH Set to Negotiate to Cut Spending, But Where Are Starting Points?

By John R Parkinson

Mar 3, 2011 3:28pm

ABC News’ John R. Parkinson reports: 

As the top Congressional leadership from both parties prepares to hammer out a compromise on federal spending levels with Vice President Biden and White House aides today, Democrats are calling on Republicans to back off their commitment to cut $100 billion and instead reach a compromise to cut spending “on common ground.” 

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi says that when she, Biden, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid sit down at the table this afternoon at 4:00 P.M. in the Capitol they will bring a willingness to meet Speaker of the House John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell halfway. 

“Democrats stand ready to meet the Republicans half way on this. That would be fair,” Pelosi, D-Calif., said Thursday afternoon. “As we go forward let’s see what they put on table, but it’s not only the amount of the cuts, it’s what is being cut.” 

But even establishing a starting point for each party to begin negotiations and help determine a “halfway” point has become a topic of confusion and debate. 

From the Democrats’ perspective, they believe they should be able to included $41 billion chopped out of President Obama’s 2011 budget request and passed into law last year in the Democratically-controlled Congress during the Lame Duck session Dec. 21.

Democrats say if Republicans are measuring against the president’s FY11 request and pledge to cut $100 billion, then why should not the Democratic cuts to the president’s budget request be included in the negotiations? 

After adding in the $4 billion of cuts from the two-week continuing resolution signed into law by President Obama earlier this week, you’re nearly already there, according to senior Democratic leadership aides. 

But from the perspective of Congressional Republicans, Democrats are simply maintaining the status quo from before the November election and are not serious about tackling the federal deficit. 

“It seems that Harry Reid and the Vice President are going to come forward with approximately $40 billion in cuts. That’s not cuts. That’s the status quo. That has been the position that Harry Reid has taken all along,” House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., said. “What we say is we need to cut spending, we need to trim the fat, we need to do what most Americans are doing which is to find out how we can do more with less.” 

When House Republicans passed H.R. 1 on Feb. 19, it would have cut about $61 billion from actual spending levels, or $100 billion when compared to President Obama’s FY11 request. After subtracting the $4 billion in the short-term CR that was signed into law to keep the government open through March 18th that would leave about $57 billion in real spending that Republicans would like to cut through September 30. 

According to a senior Republican leadership aide, Democrats have not offered to cut one penny beyond spending levels already signed into law that fund the government through March 18. 

So will Democrats cut another $28.5 billion to reach the GOP’s perspective of middle ground? Don’t hold your breath. 

Democratic aides say when the meeting begins today Pelosi and Reid will begin to identify up to $5 billion in additional cuts to fulfill their promise to meet Republicans in the middle ground. 

Still, with the prospect of a government shutdown looming just two weeks away, Pelosi called on Republicans to work in a bipartisan manner similar to how Democrats worked together with President Bush over the final two years of his presidency even though Democrats controlled Congress. 

“I would hope the Republicans in Congress would work in the same cooperative way with President Obama to keep government open,” Pelosi said. “I think we all have to work together. It’s not about brinkmanship. It’s about finding common ground. We want to find that common ground on the high ground of a better future for our children.” 

Pelosi said she believed “the spirit of cooperation seems to be better” in the Senate than in the House, but said she hoped that a sense of seriousness about what is at stake if a deal is not reached would be realized by those attending this afternoon’s session. 

“We can’t shutdown government. We cannot make these make these cuts that undermine the education of our children, that jeopardize the creation of jobs, that weaken the middle class. There’s a great deal at stake and Democrats stand ready to work together,” Pelosi said. “What we have to do is get a fair shake for the American people.” 

“This isn’t theology, it isn’t ideology, it’s making it add up to something that works for the American people,” she added. “Let’s do the right thing. We’ve worked together in a bipartisan way before, we can do it again. No more brinkmanship, just seriousness about what these cuts are, what the impact is, recognizing some of them will end up costing us money unless we’re wise about what the selection is.”

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