Democrats, GOP dig in their heels as march to shutdown continues

The standoff over spending cuts continued Wednesday as lawmakers in the Senate and House rejected each other's short-term budget plans, keeping the possibility of a government shutdown alive.

Republican leaders in the House are crafting a two-week continuing resolution with $4 billion in cuts to temporarily keep the government funded, a source told The Hill. The measure would run through March 18, when the next scheduled congressional recess is set to begin.

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The stopgap measure "will be on the House floor early next week, then it's all on Sen. Reid" to pass it, the GOP source said.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) wasted no time rejecting the plan Wednesday.

"The Republicans' so-called compromise is nothing more than the same extreme package the House already handed the Senate, just with a different bow," Reid spokesman Jon Summers said Wednesday night. "This isn’t a compromise, it’s a hardening of their original position."

Summers argued the House's short-term measure is a two-week version of the measure the House passed last week that cuts $61 billion from the final seven months of fiscal 2011 budget. The two-week proposal would essentially cut spending levels at about the same rate as the $61 billion proposal does through the end of the fiscal year, Summers argued.

"It isn't going to fool anyone," Summers said. "Both proposals are non-starters in the Senate."

A House Republican leadership aide questioned why Reid was shooting down a short-term resolution that has yet to be unveiled.

"I’m not sure how Senator Reid rejected spending cuts that he hasn’t seen yet, but it certainly reinforces the notion that he is willing to shut down the government rather than cut one penny in spending," Brad Dayspring, spokesman for House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), said in an e-mail to The Hill. 

GOP staffers were still drafting the short-term CR late Wednesday evening and had yet to determine exactly what cuts would be included in the $4 billion. Sources said the idea that every cut in the seven-month CR would be included and pro-rated in the two-week bill was not accurate, which is why they accused Reid of jumping the gun.

Also late on Wednesday, the Heritage Foundation sent out an alert saying the short-term CR must include cuts "on par" with those in the longer-term CR and "on par" with the riders in that bill that defund Planned Parenthood and the Obama healthcare law.

But Heritage's Dan Holler clarified Thursday that the think tank was not saying it would oppose a short-term CR if it did not defund ObamaCare. 

"At this point, we have not laid down a marker on that," Holler said.

Boehner's proposal comes a day after Reid announced Senate Democrats will try to pass a 30-day measure next week that keeps spending at current fiscal 2010 levels. 

Boehner has said he won't consider a short-term measure that doesn't include at least some spending cuts. 

The White House has threatened to veto the spending bill that was passed by the House on Saturday, which included funding reductions for domestic programs and foreign aid.

House Republicans and Senate Democrats have spent the better part of the past few weeks lobbing plans back and forth across the Capitol only to have them meet a quick legislative death in the opposing chamber. With such a wide disparity between what each side wants, the timeframe for a resolution is likely to demand more than two weeks and probably even more than the month Reid is seeking. 

Still, lawmakers will need to face the looming March 4 deadline to decide on the best avenue to avoid a government shutdown, which would halt so-called non-essential government programs.

With both sides jockeying for position to ensure they aren't blamed, the odds appear to be increasing that no resolution will be reached before the expiration of the current bill. 

Meanwhile, Republicans in the Senate are supporting House GOP efforts to make those spending cuts now, as part of this year's budget.

"Freezing in place the current unsustainable spending levels is simply unacceptable," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said. "And while Republicans are making a genuine effort to cut spending and debt, Washington Democrats can't seem to find a single dime of federal spending to cut, insisting on the status quo, even for a short-term spending bill. But keeping bloated spending levels in place won’t cut it."

Yet Summers argues that Democrats have proposed $41 billion in cuts and "we are eager to sit down with Republicans to find more." 

"Republicans are refusing to negotiate," he said. "Instead of working with Democrats to find more cuts, they are threatening to shut down the government and drawing lines in the sand. Their recklessness could send our economy into a tailspin. It is time for cooler heads to prevail in the House, and for Republicans to come to the table."

Summers cited a nonpartisan study by Goldman Sachs that said the GOP plan for $61 billion in spending cuts could reduce Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth by 1.5 to 2 percentage points in the second and third quarters of the year.

Because lawmakers didn't pass any fiscal 2011 spending bills last year, Congress rolls the government's budget into one large measure, holding spending at the previous year's levels. House Republicans are seeking large cuts in those levels for the final seven months of the year before taking up next year's budget plan. President Obama sent his $3.7 trillion fiscal 2012 budget plan to Congress on Feb. 12.

Molly K. Hooper and Erik Wasson contributed to this report.

This post was updated at 10:30 p.m., and at 9:27 a.m. on Feb. 24.