Stopgap Bill On Track, Buying Time for Budget Showdown

Congressional officials in both parties said Friday that the House and Senate are on track to pass a three-week stopgap measure to buy more time for negotiations between the Obama administration and Capitol Hill Republicans on a longer-term budget bill.

US Capitol Building with cash
US Capitol Building with cash

A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says the measure would include $6 billion in spending cuts as the price for the extra time for talks.

Those cuts are expected to be relatively non-controversial and include tapping accounts that would have been used for lawmakers' home state earmarks that were already banned. Other cuts are likely to be programs already targeted by Obama for big cuts or outright termination.

"We're still in talks with the House on a three-week CR with $6 billion in cuts, most of which have already been proposed by Democrats," said Jon Summers, a spokesman for Reid, D-Nev.

The stopgap continuing resolution would keep the government operating at 2010 levels through April 8, which means there is one month to wrap up slow-moving talks on bigger legislation to fund the day-to-day operating budgets of government agencies through the Sept. 30 end of the budget year.

Republicans are demanding steep cuts but Democrats vow to protect education and other programs.

Talks on closing a gap of about $50 billion between the two sides — led by Vice President Joe Biden — haven't progressed very far, in part because Biden has been on a diplomatic mission in Europe this week. But leaders on both sides also spent much of the week sniping at each other in a daily volley of press releases and news events.

The only visible action has been a pair of votes in the Senate on the House-passed GOP plan and a Democratic alternative. Both measures fell well short of a majority, much less the 60 votes that were required under Senate procedures.

But Democrats claimed the legislative two-step actually represented progress since it proved to House Republicans that their bill can't pass the Senate and that tea party-backed freshmen need to show flexibility.

At issue is legislation to fund the day-to-day operating budgets of every federal agency and provide a $158 billion infusion for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Both bills officially total about $1.2 trillion, though roughly half of that has already been spent as the government has operated at last year's spending levels for almost half of the budget year that began Oct. 1.