Shutdown talk softens as GOP details plans for $4 billion in cuts

House Republicans on Friday unveiled legislation that would cut $4 billion in government spending by embracing proposals from President Obama.  

The House Appropriations Committee on Friday unveiled a two-week spending bill to avoid a government shutdown after March 4. The bill cuts $1.24 billion by terminating programs targeted for cuts in Obama's 2012 budget request. 

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The bill would find the other $2.7 billion in savings by defunding earmarks.

“Our short-term proposal targets earmark slush funds and includes program terminations supported by President Obama. I cannot see how Democrats would hesitate to take these basic steps toward reining in spending while keeping our government operational,” House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said.

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said that the onus to avoid a shutdown is now clearly on Senate Democrats. 

“Once the House passes our second continuing resolution early next week, I’m hopeful Sen. Reid will quickly hold a vote on our short-term proposal so we can ensure the government remains open and that we’re addressing the need to cut spending to create a better environment for job growth. The House is doing its part to cut spending and avoid a government shutdown; it’s time for the Senate to take action as well,” he said. 

The programs targeted by Republicans in the short term do not include the most contentious cuts Obama has proposed in his 2012 budget request, such as reductions to low-income heating assistance (Liheap) or Community Development Block Grants. It also does not contain riders defunding environmental, telecommunications or health reform regulations viewed as poison pills by Democrats.

The fact that such cuts were omitted could bode well for a compromise to avoid a shutdown in the near term.

Senate Democrats said Friday that they are "encouraged" by the latest plan from House Republicans to extend government funding for two weeks.

In a statement, the office of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said Republicans are "moving closer" to their position on spending cuts with their latest bill.  

“The plan Republicans are floating today sounds like a modified version of what Democrats were talking about. We’re glad they think it’s a good idea, but we should keep our focus on what we need to do to cut spending and keep our economy growing in the long term,” said Reid spokesman Jon Summers. 

Summers said Democrats “are encouraged to hear that Republicans are abandoning their demands for extreme measures like cuts to border security, cancer research and food safety inspectors and instead moving closer to Democrats’ position that we should cut government spending in a smart, responsible way that targets waste and excess while keeping our economy growing.”

He said that Democrats are still seeking a month-long continuing resolution to allow time for talks.

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said that he is "hopeful we can resolve our differences on a long-term measure quickly so that we are not forced to continue funding the government in disruptive two-week increments that undermine efficiency."

"Republicans must abandon the extreme and arbitrary cuts they called for in their spending bill that passed the House last week, and move closer to Democrats’ position of cutting spending in a smart, targeted way," Hoyer said in a statement.

The two-week bill cuts eight programs: Election Assistance Grants, Broadband Direct Loan subsidies, the Smithsonian Institution Legacy Fund, the Department of Education’s Striving Readers program, Education’s LEAP, Smaller Learning Communities and Even Start programs, and by cutting $650 million in federal highway funding not requested by the president.

Senate Democrats have said they would look to cuts from the list of programs terminated in Obama’s 2012 budget released last week and by defunding earmarks.

“Reports started to appear yesterday that Senate Democrats may be willing to cut some spending in a long-term measure. We welcome the news that they are beginning to embrace the need to cut spending — especially as we continue to borrow nearly 40 cents of each dollar that we spend — and it shows how much Republicans are changing the culture in Washington,” House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said after the bill was unveiled.

“This is a vitally important measure to prevent a government shutdown, and we sincerely hope that Senate Democrats will join us in supporting this reasonable measure that contains cuts and terminations that they have voiced support for,” he said.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said the bipartisan proposal the Republicans are floating provides “a clear path to finishing this short-term measure before the March 4 deadline.”

“By supporting the House bill, our friends on the other side of the aisle will have the chance to ensure that the government remains operational while we work with them to identify additional ways to shrink Washington spending this year,” he said. 

“President Obama and congressional Democrats agree with Republicans that these are potential areas to reduce spending, removing any excuses they have offered for demanding their status quo spending levels,” McConnell noted. 

This story was updated at 7:43 p.m.