Cuts at the heart of shutdown debate

Wednesday - 2/23/2011, 10:31am EST

Erik Wasson, staff writer, The Hill

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By Jolie Lee
Federal News Radio

Time is ticking for Congress to pass a spending measure to keep government running after the March 4 deadline of the current funding measure - or face a government shutdown.

With lawmakers in recess this week, Congress has only four days next week to pass budget before the deadline.

To buy time, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is proposing a 30-day bill for both sides to negotiate a final spending plan for the rest of fiscal year 2011 budget, ending Sept. 30.

But House Majority Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said he is rejecting any short-term spending measure that does not contain cuts. The House already passed an omnibus bill on Saturday that cuts spending by $61 billion in the next seven months.

"This is leading to a shutdown if they can't resolve this difference," said Erik Wasson, a staff writer with The Hill, in an interview with the Federal Drive.

Wasson said he has talked to administration officials who think passing one continuing resolution after another - which would keep spending at 2010 levels - would be a good strategy.

Recognizing this potential strategy, Republican leaders decided there needs to be "some kind of cut," Wasson said. "The question is what is it going to be."

The threat of a shutdown has set in motion the "blame game," Wasson said. The bill that passed in the House defunds President Obama's health care reform. House staff are now weighing whether or not to include that cut in a short-term measure.

"If that gets in the bill, it would be easy for Senate Democrats to say, Well, you've given us a poison pill and if we're going to shut down the government it's pretty much your fault," Wasson said.

If the government is in fact shut down, the Office of Management and Budget has guidance on contingency plans for agencies. But the White House has said little publicly about the plans, not wanting to give the appearance the administration thinks a shutdown is inevitable, Wasson said.

"It's not really clear how it's going to go," he said. "The next couple of days leading up to this possible shutdown will really set the tone for the rest of the year."

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