By Alexander Bolton - 02/03/11 06:28 PM EST
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) blasted a House Republican proposal to cut $32 billion from 2011 spending levels as “draconian” and “unworkable.”
Reid promised to work hard to avert a government shutdown that he warned would inflict grave harm on the economy.
“We are happy to work with Republicans; we recognize that there has to be some long-term financial austerity,” Reid said.
“We’re not burying our heads in the sand; we recognize we need to do some things,” he added.
But he called a proposal by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) to cut this year’s federal budget by $32 billion “unworkable.”
“The chairman of the Budget Committee today, today sent us something even more draconian than we originally anticipated,” said Reid. “So this isn’t some game that people have been playing. The House of Representatives [is] actually sending us some of these unworkable plans.”
Republicans have threatened to block a continuing resolution to fund the government beyond early March, as well as legislation raising the national debt limit unless Democrats agree to significant spending cuts.
Reid warned that threatening a government shutdown or blocking an increase in the national debt limit would be playing “Russian roulette” with the economy.
Reid declined to rule out spending cuts in 2011 but said he wanted to first review a deficit-cutting proposal being negotiated by Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.).
Conrad is in talks with GOP Sens. Mike Crapo (Idaho) and Tom Coburn (Okla.), who sat on President Obama’s fiscal commission.
“Before we talk about any budget-cutting, we have to see what Conrad comes up with,” Reid said after the press conference.
Senate Republicans noted that Reid, Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.) and Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) voted against legislation to increase the debt limit in 2003, 2004 and 2006, when Republicans controlled the Senate and White House.
Republicans have accused Democrats of raising the specter of a government shutdown to score political points.
“As Republicans focus on constructive ways for the two parties to work together on cutting spending and debt, Sen. Schumer seems strangely preoccupied with the notion of a government shutdown,” said Don Stewart, a spokesman for Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.).
“It is our hope that he soon realizes the only person talking about a shutdown is Sen. Schumer,” Stewart added. “Most Americans and even many in his own party have come to realize that the gravity of our current fiscal problems calls for constructive dialogue that will lead to serious cuts in spending and debt.”