The chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee warned his colleagues that further cuts to government spending would damage government operations and harm the economy.

"How much more spending can we really afford to cut before we are required to lay off food inspectors in meat plants?" asked Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) in a floor speech Thursday. "How much more before we have no funds to pay employees who monitor our borders and important ports? How much more before we have to cancel the construction of dams and bridges and highways and throw thousands of private-sector workers on the street?

Inouye said laid-off private and public sector workers would end up costing the government billions of dollars in unemployment payouts and unpaid taxes. 

The Senate began debate a three-week stopgap spending measure on Thursday afternoon. The spending bill would prevent the government from shutting down Friday and cut $6 billion from federal spending for the remainder of fiscal 2011.  A vote on the measure is scheduled for 3 p.m.