In challenge to Senate, House GOP drafting spending bill with cuts

House Republicans are drafting a short-term measure funding government at reduced levels for consideration next week, the latest move in an escalating showdown between the House GOP and the Democratic-led Senate.

House Republicans intend to unveil a resolution later this week that would continue funding the government past March 4, after which the government would run out of money and face a shutdown.

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Republicans hope to pass the resolution — which will include cuts from current spending at a level that's to be determined — early next week in order to put the onus on the Senate to act or risk a government shutdown.

"If Senator Reid refuses to bring it to a vote, then the House will pass a short-term bill to keep the government running — one that also cuts spending," House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said in a statement. "Senator Reid and the Democrats who run Washington should stop creating more uncertainty by spreading fears of a government shutdown and start telling the American people what — if anything — they are willing to cut.”

The maneuver is the latest strike in a back-and-forth Tuesday between House Republicans and the Senate's top Democrat over spending levels and the prospect of a government shutdown.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) sparred in a series of statements accusing each other of rooting for a government shutdown.

The two have been mixing it up over spending issues over the last month and a half. But the statements took on a sharper tone Tuesday, with lawmakers on a weeklong recess from which they'll return next week to face a March 4 deadline to reach an agreement on funding the government.

Cantor struck first on Tuesday morning, with a statement challenging Reid to take a shutdown off the table.

"[S]enate Democrat Leader Harry Reid has yet to offer a plan and instead almost seems as though he’s hoping for a government shutdown to occur for political gain," Cantor said in a statement. "Let me be clear, a government shutdown is not an acceptable outcome, and I call upon Leader Reid to commit to a good faith effort to work with us and take that threat off the table."

The GOP-held House approved legislation early Saturday morning that would fund the government through the remainder of this fiscal year, but cut $61 billion from existing spending. That plan seems all but dead in the Senate, and President Obama has threatened to veto such legislation were it to reach his desk.

But with just a week to take up the whole bill, the argument has shifted to a debate-within-a-debate over a short-term measure (called a "continuing resolution," or "CR") that would keep government open while lawmakers work out their differences. Republicans insist that even that measure must contain cuts for them to consider it.

Reid countered on Tuesday by introducing a bill that would fund government for the next 30 days, but at current levels — the spending level Republicans have rejected as unacceptable. Reid also named an aide to serve as a go-between his office and House Speaker John Boehner's (R-Ohio) to help hash out differences.

And, like Cantor, Reid demanded that the other side take a shutdown off the table.

"It is time to drop the threats and ultimatums, and work together on a path forward," the Nevada Democrat said in a statement. "I am asking Speaker Boehner to simply take the threat of a government shutdown off the table, and work with us to negotiate a responsible, long-term solution.”

Cantor responded Tuesday afternoon by calling Reid's proposal unserious, challenging the Democratic leader to act in a way that would remove the risk of a shutdown.

"As I said this morning, a government shutdown is not an acceptable outcome, and I again call upon Leader Reid to commit to take that threat off the table and find areas to actually cut spending from the levels we are currently operating at," the Virginia Republican said in a statement.

To that end, Republicans will unveil their CR later this week and pass it early next week, which would seek to put the onus on the Senate to act, or risk a shutdown.

Both sides are mindful of the politics of the 1995 shutdown, resulting from the impasse between Republicans led by House Speaker Newt Gingrich and President Clinton. That shutdown ended up hurting congressional Republicans, and current GOP leaders have been explicit in saying they don't wish for a shutdown.

It's not clear whether the GOP's short-term measure will cut as deeply as the long-term resolution Republicans passed last weekend. Aides are still working on cobbling together the details, and trying to figure out what it would take to win the support of a majority of House members.

Reid and Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) responded on Tuesday afternoon, and accused Republicans of refusing to negotiate.

"We want them to come to the table and work with us on a responsible path forward," Reid said in a conference call. "We're proposing a short-term solution that would give us time to negotiate."

The pair said that they were open to discussing deeper cuts, but insisted on their proposal, which they said cuts $41 billion. That number is compared to President Obama's initial budget request, and not currently allotted spending. The Senate Democratic proposal, as drafted, would not cut from currently allotted spending.

"We're not going to set preconditions here in negotiations," said Schumer, who said that Boehner was being essentially bullied by more conservative members of his party.

"He is under intense pressure from the right wing," Schumer said. "He's being misled and pushed around by his conservative freshman."

—This post was updated at 2:40 p.m. and at 4:27 p.m.