Stopgap Puts Shutdown Talk on Hold

BY David Chalian  February 28, 2011 at 8:27 AM EDT

U.S. Capitol

A girl visiting from of Allentown, Pa., poses in front of the U.S. Capitol last week. Photo by Tom Williams/Roll Call.

The Morning Line

It looks like a government shutdown has been averted — for now.

Senate Democrats have signaled they can support a two-week funding measure put forward late last week by House Republicans that contains $4 billion in cuts from current spending levels. “It is acceptable to me to have four billion in savings in a two-week package,” Senate Budget Committee chairman Kent Conrad, D-N.D., said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

Such a proposal would give lawmakers a little breathing room — until March 18 to be exact — to reach a long-term deal on funding the government for the rest of the fiscal year, which ends in September.

“Honestly I think this two-week business is not the way to go,” said Sen. Conrad. “I think there should be a longer term agreement, hopefully through the end of the year.”

House Republicans passed a long-term funding measure earlier this month that would have covered the federal government’s operating expenses for seven months, albeit with $61 billion fewer dollars. Congressional Democrats rejected that plan, arguing it made extreme cuts to vital programs. The White House also warned the president would veto the spending bill if it somehow made its way to his desk.

Then, last week came the new GOP plan, which Democrats balked at initially, but eventually warmed to once it became clear that most of the reductions would come from programs that President Obama has targeted in his budget for the upcoming fiscal year.

The House Rules Committee will be the first to act on the two-week stopgap, starting Monday. It will be fascinating to see how Republican leaders handle the process this time around, after having to slog through hundreds of amendments on the original bill, which led to four long nights and two additional days of debate.

With the bill coming to the House floor on Tuesday, and funding running out at midnight on Friday, it’s a safe bet many members will have to wait until another long-term bill drops before they can be heard on the additional cuts they want considered.

When that time comes, lawmakers could find themselves back at square one, with Republicans wanting to revive some of the more significant cuts from the original measure, and Democrats holding firm in their position of trimming only those areas the president has deemed expendable.

BRANSTAD’S TAKE ON 2012 GOP FIELD

Iowa Republicans may be souring somewhat on Sarah Palin. According to a Des Moines Register poll out Monday morning, Palin’s favorable numbers have slipped from 71 percent to 65 percent in the last 15 months, while the segment of Iowa Republicans who view her unfavorably has grown from 23 percent to 30 percent.

One Iowa Republican, Gov. Terry Branstad, is eager to see if Palin and/or Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., take the plunge because he thinks their participation could be a game changer in the 2012 caucuses.

“If Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann participate, this could break all records and could get to be really really wide open and very interesting,” Gov. Branstad told the Morning Line over the weekend while he was in Washington attending the National Governors Association winter meeting.

“What really intrigues me is I’ve seen the kinds of crowds that Michele Bachmann or Sarah Palin can draw and we have not had these kind of strong women candidates before. That’s another dimension that is kind of intriguing, I guess,” he said.

Gov. Branstad, who is just starting to serve in his second tour of duty at the statehouse after serving as Iowa’s governor from 1983 to 1999, has watched the caucus process from a front row seat for several competitive Republican contests.

He walked us through his thoughts on several of the high-profile, potential candidates.

On Mike Huckabee: “Huckabee obviously won the state last time; you gotta consider him the favorite. I’m not even sure he’s going to run. But if he does, I think he’s obviously the favorite.”

On Tim Pawlenty: “Pawlenty, from neighboring state of Minnesota, was a very fine governor there. I think certainly somebody to look at and I think he’s going about it in the right way. He’s putting an organization together.”

On Haley Barbour: “We have a lot of respect for Haley. He did a great job with Republican Governors Association. I go way back with him when he was chair of the Republican Party and I was chair of the Republican governors. Don’t underestimate Haley.”

On Mitch Daniels: “We think he was the first governor that really took the fiscal bull by the horns and has wrestled it to the ground in Indiana. I think you’ve got other governors now who are saying, [Chris] Christie and [Scott] Walker, and many many others that are taking this on now.”

On Rick Santorum: “There are a lot of social conservatives in Iowa.”

On Mitt Romney: “My guess is Romney has a little different strategy. He’s not going to spend as much money or as much organization in Iowa. But I think he recognizes that the does need to compete in Iowa if he’s going to run again. I think that’s important. I think he recognizes that he’s not the favorite in Iowa. On the other hand, if he does compete and do better than people expect — last time the problem was he was the favorite.”

Even as the social conservative wing has grown more politically potent inside the Republican caucus-going electorate, Gov. Branstad says their votes alone will not determine the winner.

“Those people that think that only a social conservative’s got a chance in Iowa are wrong,” he said, adding, “The economic issues and the future ability of America to compete in the world — solving America’s fiscal mismanagement and debt has got to be at the top of the list. And then restoring our competitiveness and bringing jobs back.”

The governor plans on staying neutral at the beginning of the process, but reserves the right to back a horse as the caucuses approach.

“At the end of the day if there’s somebody that I just think, ‘This is the person that I think has the best chance to lead America back,’ I’m not ruling out the possibility of saying that,” said Gov. Branstad. “On the other hand, I’m humble enough to know that I’m just one vote. Iowa voters are very independent. Endorsements don’t mean that much. At the end of the day, voters are going to make their own decision on who they think is the best and most capable candidate.”

Although he has had no conversations with Florida Republican Gov. Rick Scott about the Sunshine State’s effort to jump ahead of Iowa in the calendar, Gov. Branstad is convinced Iowa will continue to play its traditional kickoff role.

“We will be number one as we always have been,” he said. “If we have to move it, as we did four years ago, to the third of January, we’ll do it. Iowa is committed to maintaining our leadership position.”

OBAMA MEETS THE GOVS

After a black tie dinner at the White House Sunday night, the nation’s governors return Monday to meet with President Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and members of the president’s Cabinet.

The governors will also hear from first lady Michelle Obama and Jill Biden about their initiative to support military families.

The meeting gets underway at 11 a.m. ET. And despite President Obama’s declaration Monday night that the states’ chief executives have a partner in the White House, there’s little chance of additional federal dollars flowing to the states in the current political and economic climate.

There’s one governor who will not be attending the White House meeting but will have a looming presence over the proceedings.

Republican Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin still finds himself in a standoff with public employee labor unions and their Democratic allies, including the 14 state senators who remain in Illinois to avoid a vote on the governor’s budget repair bill.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports that Gov. Walker has said Tuesday is the deadline for passage of the bill, but there is still no sign of the Democrats returning to the state senate.

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