- The Washington Times - Friday, February 25, 2011

Congress appeared to be closing in Friday on a short-term spending bill to prevent a government shutdown next week, with House Republicans proposing a two-week extension that would cut $4 billion from last year’s spending levels.

Senate Democrats, who had earlier opposed any more cuts, signaled Friday afternoon that the new House bill is acceptable. The House measure, known as a “continuing resolution” or “CR,” would end some old earmarks and cut eight other programs President Obama has identified as good targets for reductions.

“This short term, two week CR will provide more time, while cutting $4 billion in spending as a symbol of our continued commitment to getting our nation’s fiscal house in order,” said House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers, Kentucky Republican.

Congress is racing a March 4 deadline, when funding for 2011 runs out. The House has already passed another bill that would run through Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year, and would cut $61 billion from 2010 levels. But Senate Democrats said they don’t have enough time to fully consider that broader bill, and have insisted on another short-term extension.

“The plan Republicans are floating today sounds like a modified version of what Democrats were talking about,” said Jon Summers, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat.

The new bill would extend funding through March 18, while cutting $1.24 billion in programs and $2.7 billion in old earmarks.

The two biggest program cuts would be to cut $250 million for an education reading program, and to cancel additional highway grant money, for a savings of $650 million. Republicans said both reductions are consistent with the budget Mr. Obama sent Congress last week.

House Republicans said their short-term cuts bill will be on the floor on Tuesday, which would give the Senate at least three days to consider the bill.

Democrats, who controlled all levels of government last year, failed to pass any of the regular spending bills to fund the government. Instead, they passed a series of continuing resolutions that kept the government running more or less at 2010 levels.

Republicans, who won control of the House in November’s elections, have said those levels must be brought down, and the bill they pushed through last weekend would cut $61 billion.

Mr. Obama has said he would veto that bill, arguing the government needs to continue spending on its priorities in order to boost jobs. And Senate Democrats, who remain in control of that chamber, have said they need more time to negotiate a final bill with the GOP.

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