Congress set to approve second measure preventing shutdown

Leaders in both parties are expressing confidence that a new stop-gap funding measure to fund the government and avoid a shutdown will be approved this week despite some discontent among conservatives in the House.

If the growing bipartisan consensus holds, Congress will have until April 8 to pass a budget for the remainder of fiscal 2011.

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Leaders from both parties said the emerging agreement signals that Democrats and Republicans have begun to find common ground and expressed hope that a budget bill could be agreed upon.

The current stop-gap spending measure will expire after March 18. 

The second proposal, introduced by House Republicans Friday, would fund the federal government through April 8 and eliminate or reduce 25 programs and cut federal spending by $6 billion.

Some conservative House lawmakers have balked at the latest spending package for not implementing the full $61 billion in cuts they called for earlier this year.

Some House Republicans may also vote against the new stop-gap because it does not include language banning funds for Planned Parenthood.

The plan they prefer, H.R. 1, however, fell 16 votes short of passing the Senate last week.

Senate Democratic leaders say it is now up to House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to negotiate a compromise that can pass both chambers.

GOP leaders insist they’ll have the votes in the House to move a stop-gap measure to keep federal departments and agencies operating while they work on a longer-term agreement for the rest of 2011.

House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) told CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday that he’ll have enough votes to pass a three-week spending measure.

“We will get it through,” he said.

Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, the second-ranking Democrat in the Senate, said that proposal would also pass the upper chamber.

“I think it will pass, in the House this week and later in the Senate,” Durbin said on CNN’s “State of the Union," dismissing the possibility of a government shutdown at the end of this week. “It buys us about three weeks and includes cuts which we've offered on the Democratic side in an effort to find a reasonable compromise here."

Durbin expressed hope that bipartisan support indicates the two sides are beginning to come together.

“I hope that the Republican leadership in the House will see this as a signal of good faith,” he said.

Sen. Chuck Schumer (N.Y.), the vice chairman of the Senate Democratic conference, also predicted Senate approval, during an appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

He voiced support for the three-week proposal and acknowledged that Democrats will have to agree to deeper spending cuts than they've offered so far.

We "have to go somewhat further than we've gone as long as it doesn't cut the kinds of things that help America grow," he said.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) said members of his caucus don’t want to risk a government shutdown and would support the three-week proposal.

“I expect to support it and I expect it to pass,” he said. “This is not the ultimate solution for this year. That’s going to be negotiated in the next couple of weeks.”

Vice President Joe Biden suggested the cuts in Friday’s short-term spending package — cuts which President Obama included in his 2012 budget request — making it difficult for Senate Democrats to oppose them.

They include $3.5 billion in funding reductions and program terminations. The latest House GOP proposal would also cut $2.6 billion in earmarked spending for different agencies.

A Democratic senator told The Hill last week that it is politically difficult for Democrats to vote against short-term spending proposals cutting $4 billion to $6 billion when the federal deficit for 2011 is projected to reach $1.6 trillion.

But Democrats such as Sen. Barbara Mikulski (Md.), a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, also cringe at watching cherished programs suffer “death by a thousand cuts.”

At two private meetings last week, Senate Democrats expressed frustration that Obama has not taken a more visible role in the spending battle with Republicans.

McCarthy hit Obama Sunday for not taking leadership in the fight over how much to reduce government spending.

“The Democrats in the Senate haven’t even produced a bill,” said McCarthy, who complained that Biden left the country for an extended trip to Finland, Russia and Moldova shortly after Obama tapped him to negotiate with Republican leaders.

“How serious are they about solving this problem,” McCarthy said. “We’re not going to shut down the government. We want the Democrats to step up. You can’t negotiate by yourself.”

But Schumer said he has kept in close touch with White House officials.

“I talk to the White House every day,” Schumer said. “We are talking to one another. We're not always on the same page but we usually are.

“And the overall goal: again, cutting waste, using a smart short scalpel but not a meat axe,” he said. “Senate Democrats and the president are on the same page and I think we're moving in that direction.”

– Vicki Needham and Erik Wasson contributed to this report.