- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 8, 2011

House Republicans said Tuesday they will likely have to write another short-term spending bill to avert a government shutdown on March 18, as a deal over funding the final seven months of the fiscal year remained elusive.

Senators are scheduled to vote Wednesday on two competing proposals: the House Republicans’ plan, which includes $57 billion in new cuts from 2010 spending levels, and the Senate Democrats’ proposal, which draws the line at $4.7 billion in new cuts. But both sides acknowledge those votes will be mostly to show that neither bill can pass.

“We want the American people to know that [the House bill] is dead. And we’ll get there,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat.

But the path beyond those votes remains murky.

Neither side is prepared to give in, and Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., tapped last week to lead negotiations, is out of the country.

With the current funding expiring on March 18, House Republicans said they lack faith the Senate will act in time. So they are preparing another short-term spending bill to keep the government open.

“Because of their lack of action and the vice president starting negotiations and then leaving the country, I think Republicans will be prepared in the House to do another two- or three-week [spending bill],” House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy told reporters at a breakfast discussion sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor.

Mr. Reid, though, said he is opposed to more short-term measures.

All of the debate is over spending for the current fiscal year, which began Oct. 1 — more than five months ago.

The House, on the strength of Republican votes, passed a bill last month that cuts an additional $57 billion from 2010 spending levels. The Senate, though, has yet to pass a bill, and Mr. Reid has not yet scheduled the kind of free-flowing debate that could produce a bill on the Senate floor.

Part of the reason is that party leaders in the Senate are having a tough time corralling their members.

Conservative Republican senators want to see deeper cuts than the House bill, while less-conservative members of the GOP think the bill goes too far.

Meanwhile, Sen. Joe Manchin III, West Virginia Democrat, took to the Senate floor to blast both the GOP and Democrats and to demand more leadership from President Obama.

“Why are we doing all this when the most powerful person in these negotiations — our president — has failed to lead this debate or offer a serious proposal for spending and cuts that he would be willing to fight for?” Mr. Manchin said.

Mr. Obama last week said he would get more involved and said Mr. Biden would lead talks, but Mr. Biden is in Europe this week for meetings with foreign leaders.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Virginia Republican, said Wednesday’s Senate votes rejecting both proposals on the table will “take away two numbers” from the discussion, though he also said it’s premature for House Republicans to abandon their position of higher cuts.

Earlier this year, rank-and-file House Republicans pressed their leadership to dig deeper on cuts, and on Tuesday Rep. Tom Graves, a Georgia Republican who helped organize that push, said his colleagues remain firm.

“I know the House is going to stand strong. What’s awesome about this freshman class is that they’re focused on the next generation and not the next election,” Mr. Graves told the Washington Times-affiliated “American’s Morning News” radio program. “They’re willing to put up the tough votes, because that’s what it’s going to take.”

David Eldridge contributed to this article.