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House to vote on stop-gap bill avoiding gov’t shutdown

By Reuters
Tuesday, March 15, 2011 8:52 EDT
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WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The House of Representatives is likely to pass yet another in a series of stopgap spending bills on Tuesday to keep the government running, as both Republicans and Democrats try to move on to address longer-term fiscal problems.

“We hope this will be the last time we have to engage in any stopgap measures,” House Majority Leader Eric Cantor told reporters on Monday. “We would like to see this resolved.”

Similarly, second-ranking House Democrat Steny Hoyer has warned that the upcoming vote would be the “last time” he would support a stopgap spending bill for this year.

The latest measure — the sixth since this fiscal year began on October 1 — would keep the government operating through April 8, but under a tighter belt. It claims to achieve $6 billion in savings largely by terminating programs Democratic President Barack Obama already said he does not want.

The temporary spending bills have been needed because of Congress’ failure to pass regular budget bills for this year. Much of the federal government would be forced to shut down without their passage, a scenario that neither party would welcome, in particular the Republicans, who took much of the blame when it happened last in late 1995 and early 1996.

Much tougher fights are expected in coming months, or years, over longer-term fiscal fixes for a budget deficit at record levels and debt of $14 trillion.

Republicans, many of them Tea Party fiscal conservatives, want steep spending cuts but Obama and his Democrats warn that this might choke off economic recovery.

Assuming the House and Senate pass the stopgap spending bill this week, congressional leaders and the White House will step up negotiations on the government’s budget for the remaining six months of this fiscal year.

Vice President Joe Biden is heading those talks.

Tea Party conservatives, who make up many of the 85 new Republican lawmakers in the House, are pushing for $61 billion in spending cuts this year from current levels, far above the $10 billion or so Democrats have embraced.

In pushing the deeper cuts, Republicans also hope to achieve sweeping policy changes: defunding Obama’s landmark healthcare reform laws, undercutting financial reform law enforcement and stopping the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gases blamed for global warming.

But there is not enough support in the Senate, where Democrats are in the majority, to pass those initiatives.

As a result, House Speaker John Boehner is likely to come under growing pressure to either convince his freshmen to settle for less or cut them loose for now with a promise of pushing their agenda in subsequent budget fights.

“It is becoming clear that the path to a bipartisan budget deal may not go through the Tea Party at all,” said Senator Charles Schumer, a member of the Democratic leadership. He called on Boehner to “consider leaving the Tea Party behind and instead seek a consensus in the House among moderate Republicans and a group of Democrats.”

BIG BUDGET SUMMIT?

Robert Bixby, executive director of the Concord Coalition, a nonpartisan group pushing fiscal reforms, said achieving significant budget savings will be “problematic” before the 2012 presidential and congressional elections and that ultimately it will require a White House-Congress summit.

“I don’t see how you get around it,” Bixby said.

A bipartisan group of six senators has been working for months on ways to gain control of record budget deficits, which are forecast to hit $1.65 trillion just this year.

The group is working from recommendations made late last year by a presidential commission, which called for cutting U.S. budget deficits by nearly $4 trillion over the next decade and eliminating many popular tax breaks. Savings to large “mandatory” programs, such as Medicare, could be included.

One Senate Republican source said they were aiming to unveil their ideas around the time Congress begins debating legislation to raise U.S. borrowing authority in a month or so.

Also next month, the Republican-led House Budget Committee is hoping to unveil its budget blueprint for fiscal 2012, which starts on October 1. Leaders in that chamber have repeatedly said it will include reforms to mandatory programs like healthcare for seniors. But it’s unclear whether the Social Security retirement program also would be part of the mix.

(Editing by Eric Walsh)

Reuters
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