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First Budget Deal Looks Close

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The spotlight returns to Capitol Hill today, where lawmakers are trying to forge a compromise spending bill and avert a government shutdown after a recess that saw the nation riveted by acrimonious budget battles in Wisconsin and elsewhere.

House Republicans and Senate Democrats began negotiating a short-term continuing resolution last week when it became clear five days were insufficient to resolve differences over a larger spending bill for the remainder of fiscal 2011 that cleared the House on Feb. 19. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid signaled Friday that he was inclined to support a short-term CR proposed by Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), although the Nevada Democrat attempted to couch his position as a
Republican capitulation.

“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,” Reid spokesman Jon Summers said in a statement. “But the ‘my way or the highway’ approach Republicans have been taking in the past only signals a desire for a government shutdown that our country can’t afford. We hope this is a sign that they have abandoned it and will work with Democrats moving forward.”

“If Senate Democrats walk away from this offer, they are actively engineering a government shutdown,” House Chief Deputy Majority Whip Peter Roskam (R-Ill.) told reporters earlier Friday, in prebuttal to any negative reaction Senate Democrats might have to the GOP’s new short-term CR.

The two-week measure would cut
$4 billion in federal spending over that period, and House GOP leaders immediately sought to reframe the fight as Democrats standing in the way of passing a funding bill and risking a government shutdown. Democrats for weeks have been trying to paint the GOP as supporting a shutdown more than reasonable compromise on the budget.

Roskam and other Republicans also used the release to fire back at Democrats, who have called the cuts in the short-term CR and the six-month bill draconian.

“The only thing that’s draconian is defending the status quo in Washington,” Roskam said.

“Any Democrat who can’t take these basic steps is putting politics before people,” House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) added.

House Republicans’ goal for this week is fairly simple — to put enough pressure on moderate Democrats and Reid to force Senate Democrats to take their two-week proposal.

Although Reid can block virtually anything sent to the chamber from the House at this point, Republicans argued they believe they are in a good position, noting that moderates such as Sens. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) are reportedly open to cuts in the short-term CR.

“The fact that they may be willing to cut some spending may be an indication that they’re willing to take a small step in the right direction,” House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said.

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