Democrats say they're encouraged by efforts to narrow the gap on possible spending cuts, but are pushing back against Republican efforts to force their position on Congress.
House Republicans on Friday detailed a proposal to cut $4 billion in federal spending as part of legislation to keep the government operating for two weeks past a March 4 deadline. They urged Senate Democrats to accept their approach and avoid a government shutdown.
The GOP plan, to be debated by the House on Tuesday, includes $1.24 billion in savings, mainly from programs that President Barack Obama had proposed cutting in the fiscal 2012 budget, and the termination of some $2.7 billion in earmarks, or special projects, that are part of this year's budget.
With only a week remaining before federal spending authority runs out, both parties have sought to blame the other in advance if a shutdown does occur. Democrats who control the Senate have rejected a bill as Draconian that was passed by the House last week that would fund the government through the end of the budget year on Sept. 30 while carrying out $61 billion in spending cuts.
They have called for a short-term extension of federal spending so the parties can negotiate, but at current spending levels. Democrats also are discussing cuts that head in the same direction as the Republicans by focusing on earmarks - lawmakers' pet projects - and accelerating the elimination or trimming of programs recommended in Obama's 2012 budget. But the Democrats would apply the cuts to the remaining seven months of the current budget year.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said passing a short-term extension without cuts is unacceptable.
The $1.24 billion in program cuts proposed by the GOP-run House Appropriations Committee included $650 million in highway money for states provided in the fiscal 2010 budget, $250 million for a Striving Readers program that Obama wanted to eliminate next year and $75 million in election assistance grants for states, also slated for elimination in the president's budget.
The earmarks Republicans would eliminate range from $1 million for a Customs and Border Patrol solar-powered batteries program to $341 million for Army Corps of Engineers construction.
If Senate Democrats walk away from the offer, said Rep. Peter Roskam (R-Ill.) "they are then actively engineering a government shutdown."
Sen. Charles Schumer of New York, a member of the Senate Democratic leadership, saw it differently. "They feared a government shutdown and so they are adopting some of our suggestions on what to cut," he said after Republicans outlined their plans.