Senate Democrats and House GOP clash over shutdown threat

** FILE ** Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, accompanied by Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington on Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2011. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)** FILE ** Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, accompanied by Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington on Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2011. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
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Senate Democratic leaders have accused House Republicans of playing a dangerous game of political chicken by threatening a government shutdown unless Democrats meet their demands for deep spending cuts.

“We don’t need these threats — they’re extreme,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, told reporters Friday. “When it comes to spending the question is not whether we cut, it’s what we cut. We need to cut waste and excess, but programs that help our economy grow and keep America save need to be protected.”

House Republicans on Thursday promised to cut $100 billion from President Obama’s fiscal year 2011 request. The cuts — about $58 billion, compared with last year’s budget — would be included in a bill to keep the federal government running once the current funding authority expires March 4.

If Congress can’t agree on a new spending bill by the deadline, the government’s cash flow would be cut off, with agencies potentially forced to close.

“Time is wasting while House Republicans argue among themselves about how extreme a proposal to send to the Senate,” said Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat. “We are willing to meet Republicans in the middle, on spending but they keep lurching to the right.”

But House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Virginia Republican, on Friday accused the two Democratic senators of using “scare tactics” to discredit the House Republicans’ “unprecedented and historic effort to get our fiscal house in order and restore certainty to the economy.”

“Immediately after we announced our spending-package agreement, Senators Reid and Schumer began a fear campaign, pushing panicked messages that this [spending plan] will result in a government shutdown and accused Republicans of not being serious,” Mr. Cantor said.

“If we want to get our economy growing again so that Americans can get back to work, it’s time for both political parties to stop the scare tactics and get serious,” he added. “Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like the leadership in the Senate is there yet.”

The Democratic senators said a threat of a government shutdown would make it difficult for the two parties to negotiate in good faith.

Mr. Reid and and Mr. Schumer particularly pointed to a comments Thursday by Rep. Mike Simpson, an Idaho Republican and a House Appropriations subcommittee chairman, that a government shutdown is possible. They said his remarks indicate that House Republicans may not be willing to budge on their proposed spending cuts.

“It’s time for the House Republicans to stop with the games and finally rule out a government shutdown once and for all,” Mr. Schumer said. “Stop being coy about it and take if off the table.”

Democrats see tying the notion of a possible government shutdown to Republicans as politically advantageous. When a funding dispute in 1995 between President Clinton and the Republican-controlled Congress lead to a temporary shutdown of several federal agencies, the public largely blamed the GOP.

“We’re going to do everything we can to avoid a government shutdown,” Mr. Reid said.

The House GOP plan called for cuts among a broad scope of agencies, including law enforcement, transportation, energy, health and foreign aid programs. The proposal includes completely axing several federally subsidized programs, such as the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, AmeriCorps and funding for high-speed rail transit.

Mr. Reid and Mr. Schumer said they agree significant spending cuts are needed, but declined to say how much. They mentioned a proposal by Mr. Obama to freeze current spending levels for five years is “a good place to start.”

Mr. Schumer said House Republicans are wrong to “pick a number first and figure out the cuts later.”

“When you try to make cuts this deep to a slice of the budget this narrow, it is almost impossible to do responsibly,” he said.

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