A $6 Billion Fight That Could Shut Down the Government?

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The difference between a government shutdown or not might come down to just $6 billion in a $3 trillion-plus budget.

Senate Democrats asserted on Tuesday that the two sides are only $6 billion apart from a deal to fund the government for the remainder of the fiscal year, which ends on September 30, and urged House Republicans to come to the Senate to hash out a compromise.

"We are ready to find common ground," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.

Republicans disputed Democrats' account of events and stressed any talk of a deal is premature.

"There are a lot of numbers that have been discussed and thrown around," House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said on Tuesday. "The fact is, there's not an agreement [among] numbers. And secondly, nothing's agreed to until everything is agreed to."

According to Democrats, House Republicans had--at one point in negotiations--said they were willing to cap discretionary spending at $1.052 trillion, which translates to a $37 billion cut from fiscal 2010, and a $76 billion cut from President Obama's fiscal 2011 budget proposal.

But, Democrats contend, Republicans have since backed away from the emerging framework for a deal, casting the GOP leaders as under pressure to do so from hard-line conservatives in their conference.

Instead, Republicans are continuing to publicly push to cut $100 billion in discretionary spending compared to Obama's fiscal 2011 budget--a promise made during last year's campaign--or $61 billion from current spending.

The House passed that GOP proposal last month, and included several policy riders such as a provision to strip funding from Planned Parenthood and prohibit the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating carbon emissions.

Senate Democrats, who believe the GOP proposal is too severe, have put a plan on the bargaining table, backed by the White House, to cap spending at $1.058 trillion, which is a $31 billion cut from current levels and a $70 billion cut from Obama's fiscal 2011 budget request.

The $70 billion proposal includes those $51 billion in cuts, in addition to $20 billion in new cuts that include discretionary and mandatory spending reductions.

"Sitting on Sen. Reid's desk right now is a serious proposal that cuts $70 billion in government spending while protecting America's economic recovery," Jon Summers, Reid's spokesman, said in a release. "If Republicans are truly interested in forging a bipartisan agreement that avoids a government shutdown, they should come back to the negotiating table and look at what's in the proposal."

Reid attributed GOP reluctance to compromise to concern over a possible backlash from the conservative tea party wing of the Republican conference.

"Republicans need to decide which is worse: angering their tea party base, or shutting down the government and threatening our fragile economy even more," Reid said. "The recovery right now is fragile; a shutdown would make it really bad."

House Majority Whip Eric Cantor, R-Va., engaged in a rhetorical bob-and-weave with reporters on Tuesday afternoon over whether House Republicans had, in fact, pulled back last week from talks that may have led to a potential compromise.

"I think it's very one-sided what you're hearing," said Cantor at one point.
Pressed, then, whether he was refuting the story that Republicans walked away because of internal problems in selling the plan to the GOP conference, Cantor said, "[What] I'm saying is there's never been any internal disagreement on our side about the need for us to go forward and cut spending in this town."

Presented by

Billy House and Humberto Sanchez

Billy House is a staff writer (Congress) for National Journal. Humberto Sanchez is a staff writer (Budget) for National Journal.

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