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After Senate Passes Spending Measure, New Countdown Begins

Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, right, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., conduct a news conference in the Capitol Visitor Center to discuss spending cuts. (Tom Williams/Roll Call)
Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, right, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., conduct a news conference in the Capitol Visitor Center to discuss spending cuts. (Tom Williams/Roll Call)

The Senate moved swiftly to pass the House’s two-week spending measure Wednesday by a 91-9 vote, virtually ensuring that the federal government will remain open after March 4.
The short-term measure, however, only extends funding through March 18.

Public sparring over the negotiations began anew as the Senate vote concluded.

“We can’t afford to go down this path time after time,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said after he voted to pass the measure. “The Republicans should immediately come to the table and start negotiating with us on a long-term solution.”

Reid warned House Republicans not to push an ideological agenda with whatever spending proposal they approve. The temporary measure was necessary because Senate Democrats and the White House had said they would not approve H.R. 1 – which slashes $61 billion in spending and included cuts to Planned Parenthood, public broadcasting and other domestic programs.

A few minutes later, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., made it clear they were waiting for the Senate Democrats to announce their own spending plan.

“I think it’s important to make clear that we’ve been in discussions with our Democrat colleagues for weeks. This isn’t something new and the House’s position is, we passed a bill, it’s out there,” Boehner said. “I think it’s time for them to outline for us, what’s their position to keep the government funded? We’ve done our work in the House.”

The White House announced Wednesday that it wanted Vice President Joe Biden to lead negotiations between the two sides. Both McConnell and Boehner avoided committing to those talks.

“We’ll take a look at what they have to say,” McConnell said. “And obviously, if I were you, I’d be asking Senate Democrats how they feel about commencing such a discussion and, number two, at the risk of being redundant, what the Speaker and I are saying, which makes perfectly good sense, is where is the Senate Democratic proposal? Where are they on the question of funding the government for the balance of the year?”

The just-passed Senate and House two-week compromise spending plan cuts $4 billion from current levels by reducing funds for the Department of Education, highway funds and earmarks. The two sides are expected to spar over how much the longer-term plan will cut.

House Republicans say that H.R. 1 would cut $100 billion, but that is based on the budget President Obama proposed for fiscal year 2011 (that budget was never enacted). Reid said Wednesday that he supports “smart cuts” in a new spending plan.
Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said during a House Financial Services hearing that H.R. 1 would probably cost a “couple hundred thousand jobs,” which brought a quick response from a Reid spokesman.

“We can’t afford to lose jobs at this critical point in our economic recovery. It’s time for Republicans to join Democrats to cut spending in a smart, responsible way that reduces our deficit while creating American jobs, not destroying them,” Reid spokesman Jon Summers said in a statement.

Boehner spokesman Michael Steel defended the Republican spending plan, despite Bernanke’s prediction that it would cost jobs.

“Chairman Bernanke has been very clear about the need to get our hands around our long term fiscal challenges, this is the start of that process,” Steel said.

Democrats were also eager to point to an analysis by Moody’s economist Mark Zandi that said that H.R. 1 would cost the country 700,000 jobs by the end of 2012. Republican leaders claim that Zandi does not have any credibility because he supported President Obama’s 2009 stimulus plan. Zandi also advised Senator John McCain, R-Ariz.

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