- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Republicans’ plan to make $57 billion in deep spending cuts won more support than Democrats’ $4.7 billion shallow cuts proposal in competing Senate votes Wednesday, though neither gained anywhere near enough support to pass.

Together, the two votes do little more than rule out two options for cutting, and send Congress back to the drawing board as lawmakers look to avert an impending March 18 government shutdown if they can’t agree.

And in a sign of just how far off an agreement is, 14 senators — 10 Democrats, three Republicans and one independent — voted against both proposals, saying neither reached the sweet spot for compromise.

“I am left with a choice between a proposal that doesn’t go nearly far enough and one that makes many wrong choices,” said Sen. Susan Collins, Maine Republican, who reluctantly voted for the House Republican plan.

Senate Democratic leaders scheduled the votes on the competing proposals as a way of trying to undercut House Republicans’ 2011 spending plan, which cuts $57 billion more from 2010 levels. They offered their own alternative, to cut $4.7 billion, as a way of bracketing the two sides.

But despite holding a six-seat edge in the chamber, their plan earned less support — just 42 senators backed their proposal, while 44 backed the House GOP’s plan.

About the only thing Democrats and Republicans seemed to agree on was that President Obama needs to get more involved in putting a plan on the table and then pushing for compromise from both sides.

“Going forward, it is now critical that the president convene congressional leaders from both sides of the aisle to sit down and work to achieve results on the nation’s spending priorities and bottom line,” said Sen. Olympia Snowe, Maine Republican, who voted for the House GOP’s plan and against Democrats’ alternative.

Wednesday’s vote marks a setback for the White House, which just hours earlier had issued a statement backing the Democratic plan, only to see it fall short of Republicans’ proposal.

The statement also reiterated Mr. Obama’s threat to veto the House version of the bill if it reached his desk.

The White House says the president is involved. He met Wednesday with Senate Democratic leaders, and Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., traveling in Europe, called the Republican leaders in the House and Senate ahead of the vote.

White House press secretary Jay Carney called Wednesday’s votes “an important part of this process.”

“The outcome of those votes will, we think, help guide us forward in terms of the search for common ground,” he said.

Democrats last year failed to pass a budget or any of the dozen spending bills to fund basic government operations for the year, leaving the bureaucracy running on stopgap spending for more than five months.

The debate in Congress now is how to fund the government through Sept. 30.

The House last month passed a bill to cut $61 billion from 2010 spending levels. $4 billion of that has subsequently been signed into law in a separate measure, leaving their proposed cuts at $57 billion.

Senate Democrats and the White House have countered with a proposal that cuts $4.7 billion from 2010 levels.

All sides are racing a March 18 deadline when the current stopgap funding expires.

But it’s unclear who blinks first.

Using the exact same language, senators from both sides said the competing vote takes away any “excuses” the other side had.

“Now that it has been defeated, Republicans have no excuses left. It’s time for them to work with us to on a responsible, long-term solution that funds our government for the rest of the year, makes responsible cuts and safeguards our fragile economic recovery,” Mr. Reid said.

But Sen. Charles E. Grassley instead saw a message for Mr. Ried.

“Today’s votes emphasize that there are no more excuses for the Senate majority leader,” the Iowa Republican said. “His proposal for a mere $4.7 billion in spending reductions is clearly not credible. It’s time for the majority party in the Senate to get real about the federal budget and lead an effort to pass meaningful spending reductions.”

In the meantime, House Republicans signaled earlier this week that they’ll begin work on another short-term spending bill to keep the government open should a year-long bill not pass by March 18.

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