Obama admin asks for more funds on spending measure

The Senate will begin moving a stopgap spending measure Tuesday to avoid a government shutdown later this week.

The Obama administration is asking lawmakers to include about $20 billion for Pell Grants, the cash-strapped Postal Service and the implementation of the healthcare and financial regulation reform bills, but that effort is running into opposition from Republicans who want a “clean” resolution.

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Approval of the continuing resolution is necessary because Congress has not approved a single appropriations bill. The resolution would allow federal programs to operate at the spending levels of the previous year. The measure is a target for additional spending because it is probably the last vehicle that will be approved by Congress before the election.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has set a procedural vote to bring the continuing resolution to the floor as early as Tuesday morning. That vote would take place if Democrats, as expected, can’t muster the necessary 60 votes to advance a bill that provides tax incentives for U.S. firms to keep jobs at home instead of overseas.

The details of the continuing resolution have yet to be released by Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii). But Republicans, eager to demonstrate some fiscal austerity ahead of November, have been pressing for no extra spending.

House Republicans have raised the specter of a government shutdown if the resolution is not reduced.

Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (Ga.), a vice chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, said a shutdown could result if the GOP wins the House in November and President Obama fails to accept lower spending levels. 

There have been mixed signals from GOP leaders, however, on whether they’d support such a risky strategy.

House GOP Leader John Boehner (Ohio) didn’t rule out a shutdown when asked about it on CNN, but Senate Republicans, who have the votes to force a shutdown this week, have refrained from shutdown talk.

Former President Clinton gained strength over resurgent Republicans in the mid-1990s after a budget stalemate led to a government shutdown. Clinton ended up easily winning reelection in 1996. 

Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), the ranking member on the Senate Appropriations Committee, believes there’s still hope a deal with Democrats can be reached on the continuing resolution.

“Sen. Cochran, like Chairman Inouye, is working with our leadership on such an agreement,” Cochran spokesman Chris Gallegos said. “There is no agreement yet in place on content or timing, though the general trend has been to craft a CR that is as ‘clean’ as possible and not a loaded Christmas tree-type bill.”

One option pushed by Republicans has been to continue funding the government at 2008 instead of 2010 levels. House GOP leaders have backed this plan, with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) saying such a move would attract considerable support in the upper chamber.

The debate over the continuing resolution is likely to pale in comparison to post-election fights over the actual appropriations bills. For the 12 spending bills for 2011, Democrats have said they’re willing to fund the government at levels lower than those requested by the Obama administration, which called for a three-year freeze on all discretionary spending unrelated to security. 

Senate Republicans and centrist Democrats led by Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) are insisting on lower levels, and House Republicans want to lock in 2011 spending at 2008 levels.

Congress has failed to clear a single appropriations bill this year.