Congress Near Plan on Spending

Bill would keep government operating for 6 months, avoid automatic spending cuts

House and Senate leaders plan to announce agreement on a $1.047 trillion stopgap spending bill to keep the U.S. government operating for six months after Sept. 30, second-ranking Senate Democrat Dick Durbin said today.

“We’re close to an agreement,” Durbin of Illinois said today in an interview. The measure may clear both chambers of Congress this week, he said.

Completing a six-month plan now would give leaders of both parties time to negotiate ways to avert $1.2 trillion in automatic spending cuts, known as sequestration, that are scheduled to begin taking effect in January.

Durbin said the spending proposal won’t include unrelated policy items that have held up such proposals in the past.

“It’s going to be very basic, without bells and whistles,” he said.

Earlier today, two Republican House aides said Speaker John Boehner may announce the agreement as soon as today. Durbin said the stopgap funding bill would be at the level agreed to in the August 2011 Budget Control Act, which also increased the nation’s debt ceiling.

The Republican-led House and the Democratic-led Senate are working on the stopgap measure, known as a continuing resolution, because Congress hasn’t agreed on any spending bills for the 2013 fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.

Senate leaders have pressed for the $1.047 trillion funding level. House Republicans until now had demanded reduced spending that amounts to an additional $19 billion in cuts in discretionary spending.

Senator Jim DeMint, a South Carolina Republican, said last week that he and other Tea Party-backed lawmakers told Boehner, an Ohio Republican, they could support a six-month spending bill at the August 2011 level to avoid a fight over government funding in a post-election session.

“Republicans don’t want to shut the government down, particularly conservatives,” DeMint said in a July 25 interview.

Durbin said today, “Thank God we’re not going through another threatened government shutdown from the Republicans,” in saying an agreement was near. “If it’s announced today, which it could be, that’s a good indication we want to do it this week,” he said.

One of the Republican aides said the spending plan probably will be put to a vote in September after lawmakers return from their August recess.


‘Lame-Duck Session’

Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio, chairman of the Republican Study Committee that supports limited government, “is open to supporting a short-term” continuing resolution “that gets us past the lame-duck session” and doesn’t spend more than the levels in the Budget Control Act, his press secretary Meghan Snyder said last week.

“We can stomach that,” Representative Tim Huelskamp, a freshman Republican from Kansas, said last week. “Let’s get the budget done for six months and then see what happens in the election. To have a lame-duck Congress and, potentially, a lame-duck president deciding that -- I think most Americans would say ‘No.’”

Representative Mick Mulvaney, a South Carolina Republican, said last week that in addition to backing a six-month measure he would be willing to drop demands that the legislation bar funding for the administration’s health-care overhaul.

Representative Steny Hoyer, the House’s second-ranking Democrat, said July 25 that Republicans are prepared to accept the funding level as a “pragmatic judgment.” If Republicans are perceived as shutting down the government, “it would hurt them badly at the polls,” Hoyer of Maryland said at a breakfast sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor.


Bloomberg News


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