POLITICS -- March 8, 2011 at 8:10 AM ET
Senate Votes on Budget Expected to Fail
Democratic Sens. Harry Reid, Richard Durbin and Charles Schumer hold a press conference last week. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.
Democrats and Republicans in the Senate have a pretty good idea about how far apart they are when it comes to funding the government for the rest of the fiscal year, but they're expected to vote Tuesday on two measures to find out for sure.
Democrats have proposed trimming about $10 billion from current spending levels through September. Republicans, meanwhile, would like to pass the plan approved by their House counterparts last month that cuts $61 billion over a similar amount of time.
When Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., announced Friday that he planned to stage the head-to-head votes, he also made a swipe at the GOP plan. "This will go down in history as probably one of the worst pieces of legislation that we've drafted in the history of this Congress," Sen. Reid said, calling the bill's cuts "counterproductive."
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., responded Monday that what Democrats were proposing was "ludicrous."
"They'd rather draw a line in the sand than agree to cut another dime in spending," Sen. McConnell contended.
For all the posturing, neither proposal is likely to receive the 60 votes needed to clear a Senate procedural hurdle, which would leave the two parties just 10 days to bridge their $50 billion divide, or be forced to adopt another temporary stopgap to fund the government while lawmakers make another run at a long-term agreement.
White House press secretary Jay Carney would not confirm the administration supporting another short-term funding measure when the current one expires March 18. "I'm not going to draw a line in the sand on what we will or won't do," Carney said, while adding that the administration believes operating on continuous two-week deals is "not good for the economy and therefore a very bad idea."
Bad idea or not, if Democrats and Republicans don't show some willingness to move from their entrenched positions, another two-week deal could be exactly where lawmakers are headed.
IOWA GOP FAITHFUL
Five likely presidential candidates graced the stage at a church in Waukee, Iowa, Monday night at the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition spring gathering to make their initial pitches to the party faithful. Without heavy hitters like Mitt Romney and Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour in attendance, the event appeared to serve as a soft launch to the 2012 caucus campaign that will kick off next year's race for the GOP presidential nomination.
The lack of a full cast of candidates also allowed for lesser known hopefuls such as former Godfather's Pizza CEO Herman Cain and former Louisiana Gov. Buddy Roemer to steal some of the spotlight.
"It was the first group appearance of the developing campaign for the Iowa caucuses and an opportunity for a first impression with an active and loyal segment of the Republican caucus electorate.
"Iowa polls have shown that about 45 percent of Iowa's caucus and primary voting base consider themselves evangelical Christians. However, former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty also used their speeches to the audience of about 1,500 at a Waukee church to remind the audience it will take a unified conservative front to retake the White House next year."
You can read the speech highlights and listen to them in their entirety courtesy of Radio Iowa's Kay Henderson.
"All five said that they can be best trusted to follow the conservative path, and they went out of their way to talk about religion in a state where social and religious conservatives play a heavy role in GOP politics," writes Mike Glover of the Associated Press.
In the weeks to come, expect the stages across Iowa to grow more crowded with candidates. The first formal debate of the season is scheduled to take place in less than two months.
LOCKE TO CHINA
He's only been in office for a little more than two years, but President Obama is now on the hunt for his fourth pick for secretary of commerce.
Later Tuesday, the president is expected to announce formally that Commerce Secretary Gary Locke will be leaving that post to take over for Ambassador Jon Huntsman as America's representative in Beijing.
Locke, a former governor of Washington, will be the first Chinese-American to serve as U.S. ambassador to China.
"If confirmed by the Senate, Locke would take over the diplomatic mission in a country that is a linchpin in Obama's trade policy. China's economy passed Japan's to become the world's second-largest last year, and the Asian nation is the second-biggest U.S. trading partner after Canada.
"His experience in trade negotiations with China makes him an 'excellent' choice, said Ted Dean, chairman of the Beijing- based American Chamber of Commerce in China. 'He's very familiar with our issues and we've seen him at work on them, we've also seen him speak out publicly on issues that are important to us.'"
Ambassador Huntsman plans to head home at the end of April and possibly launch a campaign for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination in an attempt to defeat the president he's served.
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