By Mike Lillis - 02/19/11 11:10 AM EST
Fresh from a budget victory early Saturday, House Republicans are taking their crusade against federal spending into the Presidents Day recess.
GOP leaders are urging Democrats to accept steep and immediate cuts, while slamming the White House for a stimulus spending approach they say will kill jobs and impede economic recovery.
With deficit spending projected to top $1.6 trillion this year, House Republicans have championed a continuing resolution (CR) to cut $61 billion from federal programs over the next seven months. After four days of raucous floor debate over scores of amendments, the lower chamber passed that bill early Saturday morning.
The CR is sure to hit a brick wall in the Democratically controlled Senate, however, and President Obama has similarly vowed to kill the proposal if it reaches his desk.
The standoff creates timing problems. Because the government loses its authority to spend money on March 4, there's a growing sentiment that lawmakers will have to step in with a short-term stopgap measure to fill the void until party leaders can hash out a final compromise. A failure to do so could lead to a government shutdown – an event that hasn't happened in more than 15 years.
House Democratic leaders on Friday introduced a temporary CR, which would freeze spending at current levels through the end of March. Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said the short-term fix will allow lawmakers to complete their negotiations "without punishing the American people by denying them vital services."
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) warned this week, however, that Republicans won't accept a proposal – even a temporary one – that doesn't cut spending below current levels.
“When we say we’re going to cut spending, read my lips, we’re going to cut spending,” he said Thursday.
Asked Friday night about the GOP's plans for a temporary CR, Boehner was elusive.
"You'll know soon enough," he told reporters in the Capitol.
The CR debate has highlighted the ideological chasm separating the parties when it comes to the government's role in stabilizing an economy where unemployment remains 9 percent. GOP leaders argue that deficit spending has encroached on the private sector's ability to hire. They're urging steep cuts, even if they come at the expense of federal jobs in the near-term.
Democrats, on the other hand, say slashing federal programs this year would devastate the fragile economic recovery. They're pushing for targeted spending on infrastructure, education and research to bolster the economy – goals outlined by the White House this week in its budget proposal for 2012.
Some Democrats have criticized individual provisions of the White House budget, but Pelosi said Friday that it represents "a good marker" of what party leaders want enacted. Democrats are still weighing whether they'll offer their own 2012 budget, or use the administration's bill as their baseline for the coming debate.
Republicans have been much less receptive to the Obama budget, arguing that it adopts the same stimulus spending approach that ballooned deficits to start with. Price on Saturday said the bill would kill jobs "by spending too much, and borrowing too much, and taxing too much."
Republicans have vowed to make much sharper cuts in their 2012 budget proposal, including provisions targeting Social Security, Medicare and the other entitlements – programs largely ignored in the CR and the Obama budget.
"More cuts and more reforms are on the way," Price vowed.
Before moving to next year's budget, though, Congress first has to finalize this year's. Asked what Republicans are prepared to accept from Senate Democrats on the CR, Boehner said that at least now, it's out of his hands.
"The Senate has to act," Boehner said Friday. "Until they act …"
The Speaker trailed off, leaving the room to guess.