Senate Dems search for cuts of their own in bid to avoid shutdown

Senate Democrats on Thursday began identifying cuts to the 2011 spending bill that they plan to propose to House Republican leadership in the coming days in order to avert a government shutdown after March 4.

An aide said that that Democrats will put the cuts into a proposed seven-month continuing resolution “in the spirit of trying to narrow the gap” between House Republicans and Senate Democrats over this year’s spending. 

The aide said the cuts are being combed from the ones proposed by President Obama in his 2012 budget request released last week. 

The aide noted that Obama proposed $24.7 billion in cuts in his budget from 2011 projects. Democrats are trying to see if some of those cuts could be made now, and will also propose eliminating $8.5 billion in earmarks embedded in the current CR funding the government through March 4. Those earmarks were approved in 2010 and continue to be funded automatically.

If all of these cuts are accepted, the Senate Democrats would be more than halfway toward meeting GOP demands of $61 billion in additional cuts this year. However, some of Obama’s proposed cuts, such as one to low-income heating assistance, face steep opposition among Democrats.

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“We have said repeatedly that we are willing to negotiate cuts deeper than the $41 billion in cuts in the current CR,” the aide said, noting the difference between current spending and President Obama’s 2011 budget. “The Republicans so far have not expressed a similar willingness to move below their $100 billion. So we’re taking the first step and preparing additional cuts beyond the $41 billion.”

Obama's budget proposed the cuts in order to pay for increased investments in education, innovation and infrastructure. The aide said Democrats would try to negotiate so that some programs got upward adjustments in the CR, but that overall there would be cuts compared to current levels.

Democrats hope that the seven-month CR will be acceptable enough to the GOP that they will agree to extending funding at current levels in the short term to allow talks to proceed.

Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerSpeculation mounts, but Ryan’s job seen as safe Boehner warns Trump: Don't pull out of Korea-US trade deal GOP Rep: Ryan wasting taxpayers dollars by blocking war authorization debate MORE (R-Ohio) has said that any short-term bill to fund the government would have to contain cuts, and Republicans have floated a two-week bill cutting $4 billion in spending.

John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerSpeculation mounts, but Ryan’s job seen as safe Boehner warns Trump: Don't pull out of Korea-US trade deal GOP Rep: Ryan wasting taxpayers dollars by blocking war authorization debate MORE's office in response continued to insist on cuts in the short-term.

“It sounds like Senate Democrats are making progress towards our goal of cutting government spending to help the private sector create jobs. Hopefully, that means they will support the short-term CR with spending cuts that we will pass next week, rather than shutting down the government,” spokesman Michael Steel said.