Budget stalemate deepens in Senate as gov’t shutdown looms

By Sahil Kapur
Tuesday, March 8, 2011 14:59 EDT
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WASHINGTON – The signs were discouraging Tuesday for a budget deal to avoid a government shutdown, as Senate Democratic and Republican leaders angrily sparred over the appropriate size of spending cuts.

This week the Senate is considering two budget measures. One is the recently-approved House bill that slashes spending by over $60 billion, and the other is a White House-championed measure that cuts $6.5 billion.

Neither of the two is expected to pass.

Congress is already in quadruple-overtime on a budget, having failed to pass one for fiscal 2011 and subsequently approving three continuing resolutions to keep the government solvent. The latest one expires on March 18, and the signs of a deal appear increasingly grim.

“The plan the Tea Party pushed through the House is an irresponsible plan. It’s a reckless plan. It’s dangerous for the health of our economy and our citizens,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said Tuesday on the Senate floor. “It cuts the deficit in the name of a stronger future, but cuts the most important ways we strengthen our future. It’s counterproductive, and it’s bad policy.”

The House budget measure would cost 700,000 jobs in the United States by the end of 2012, according to economist Mark Zandi of the independent analyst Moody’s.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) excoriated Democrats as “unserious” about the deficit for opposing the size and scope of the GOP cuts. Democrats have already made concessions, but still want roughly $50 billion fewer in cuts than Republicans.

“That proposal comes on the heels of an equally unserious proposal by the White House last week to cut $6 billion from federal spending for the entire year,” McConnell said on the Senate floor. “We’re averaging about $4 billion a day in debt this year, and Democrats want to cut $4.7 billion and call it a day. That’s their idea of getting serious.”

Though the White House and leaders of both parties say they hope to avoid a shutdown, each side faces intense pressure from their respective bases to take a hard line and refuse to compromise with the opposition.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) said Tuesday afternoon on MSNBC that it’s “absolutely absurd” to limit the debate on balancing the budget to spending cuts while ignoring revenues. He proposed higher taxes on the wealthy to help close the estimated $1.5 trillion deficit for fiscal 2011, which leaders of both parties have effectively ruled out.

“Most sensible people understand that a budget is two things: it is spending, it is revenue,” Sanders said, knocking Republicans for pushing “absolutely devastating cuts” to federal programs.

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