By Mike Lillis - 03/03/11 09:34 PM EST
A Tea Party-backed freshman said Thursday there's no room for compromise as Congress haggles over how much federal spending to slash this year.
Rep. Scott DesJarlais (R-Tenn.) said he'll support nothing less than the $61 billion in cuts Republicans have on the table – a proposal they've characterized as $100 billion less than President Obama's 2011 budget request, which was never enacted.
"The $100 billion, for now, I don't see any room for compromise on that unless we're willing to go beyond that," DesJarlais said.
"We're here about saving our country and our children's futures," he added. "Why are we talking about compromise when we haven't even reached a viable number to get us on track to recovery?"
The comments came just hours before Vice President Joe Biden was scheduled to meet with House and Senate leaders from both parties over a strategy for funding the government through the rest of the fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30. Congress this week passed a two-week extension of federal funding – including $4 billion in cuts – but that measure expires March 18.
Obama, who signed the two-week extension into law Wednesday, said he wants to hammer out a long-term deal rather than fall back on a series of temporary measures. DesJarlais, however, said he would accept a string of short-term extensions before he'd support lesser cuts.
"We can continue to do that as long as it takes," he said. "It's not the most efficient way to do it," he conceded, but freshman Republicans are "committed to getting the spending cuts in place."
Democrats say they're ready to fight tooth-and-nail against a number of the GOP cuts, which target programs as diverse as Pell grants, community health centers and Planned Parenthood. Slashing discretionary programs amid a fragile economic recovery, the Democrats warn, will cost jobs and disproportionately harm low-income Americans who rely on those programs.
Bolstering their case, Moody's Mark Zandi estimated the $61 billion in cuts would lead to as many as 700,000 lost jobs, possibly derailing the economic recovery. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said the impact would not be that severe, but predicted a loss of "a couple of hundred thousand jobs." Republicans have disputed the pessimistic claims, arguing that reducing federal spending will free private enterprise to fill the void and create jobs.
A failure to reach a deal at any point in the process could lead to a government shutdown – a scenario both sides say they're hoping to avoid.
DesJarlais said the onus to keep the government running falls squarely on the White House.
"I wouldn't be shutting down the government," he said of his stand against compromise. "The president would be shutting it down because what we're asking for is not too much."
This story was updated at 4:50 p.m.