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House, Senate Aides Work to Avoid Government Shutdown

By Lisa Barron   |   Monday, 25 Feb 2013 11:17 AM

Top leadership aides in the House and Senate have begun discussing another stopgap spending deal to keep the government running through September at levels set to kick in on Friday when the budget sequester takes effect, according to The Wall Street Journal.

The bill being drafted by aides to House Speaker John Boehner and reviewed by aides to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid would also allow the Pentagon more flexibility to manage the automatic cuts to defense programs that are part of the sequester, the Journal reported Monday.

The measure would replace the current so-called continuing budget resolution that expires on March 27. Without an extension, or another bill to replace it, some government operations would have to be temporarily shut down.

According to the Journal, the administration at the moment is apparently unwilling to go along with extending spending at the lower levels called for in the sequester. And Democratic leaders are insisting that any new continuing resolution, or CR as it's known, also include flexibility to manage domestic spending cuts as well as defense funding.

Neither side wants to shoulder the blame for shutting down the government.

“There’s an emerging consensus that it would be a difficult battle to have. I don’t think we could force a shutdown,” a Senate Democratic leadership aide told the Journal.

A Republican spokeswoman for the House Appropriations Committee also told the Journal, "It appears that this CR package has the support of a majority of both House members and senators."

The Congress, meanwhile, still faces the tough task of trying to avoid or delay the sequester itself, which is scheduled to kick on Friday with the first round of $85 billion in automatic cuts out of more than $1 trillion over the next decade. Just over half of the first round cuts would come from defense spending.

President Barack Obama has put forward a alternative plan to the sequester that would cut spending by more than $86 billion and raise new revenue by closing tax loopholes on the wealthy. But the GOP leadership continues to insist that it will not agree to any more tax increases.

The White House continued on Sunday to warn of the potentially disastrous effects of the sequester across the country. In a conference call, presidential advisers said the cuts would mean 350 teachers and teacher aides could lose their jobs in Ohio, nearly 4,200 children in Georgia wouldn’t get vaccinations, and 400 victims of domestic violence in Kentucky might not receive help, just to name a few of the consequences raised by the White House.

Republicans, meanwhile, continued to blame the Obama administration for the impending cuts to defense and domestic spending, pointing out that the sequester was the president’s idea in the first place, although 174 Republicans voted for it.

Both sides, however, could be blamed if they fail to reach a deal this week.

“It could be that the president, having used scare tactics to describe how devastating sequester cuts would be, ends up looking alarmist and demagogic,” Peter Wehner, a White House aide under George W. Bush and now a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, told the Journal.

“On the flip side, if the disruptions are real and painful in people’s lives, and the public places primary responsibility on Republicans for the cuts, it could hurt the GOP.”

The debate is likely to become increasingly heated as the sequester deadline approaches. The Senate is expected this week to begin debate on a Democratic bill to block the sequester and replace it with tax increases on millionaires and spending cuts in farm programs.

The GOP reportedly will offer an alternative. An aide to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell told the Journal it would most likely be a measure that would allow the spending cuts to proceed but would give agency and department heads more leeway in deciding how to carry them out.

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