WASHINGTON â€” Congress will likely avert a federal government shutdown this week, but lawmakers signaled Sunday that there are still plenty of short-term and long-term fiscal fights ahead on spending cuts and deficit reduction.
The House of Representatives returns from its Presidentâ€™s Day recess Monday poised to vote on a compromise stopgap plan to fund the federal government for two weeks beyond Friday.
The measure, embraced by House and Senate Democratic leaders, contains $4 billion in new spending cuts, several of them already called for by President Barack Obama in his fiscal 2012 budget proposal.
If approved, the measure, at least temporarily, ends a political game of chicken between leaders in the GOP-controlled House and the Democratic-run Senate over a potential government shutdown and who would be to blame if it actually happened.
â€œWe have a moral responsibility to address the problems we face,â€ House Speaker John Boehner said Sunday in prepared remarks to the National Religious Broadcasters convention. â€œThat means working together to cut spending and rein in government â€” not shutting it down.â€
The potential for a 2011 shutdown drew comparisons to the budget duel between President Bill Clinton and House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., that resulted in the government shutting down twice in the fall and winter of 1995-96.
The first closure, in November 1995, lasted six days and resulted in the furloughs of 800,000 federal workers. The second shutdown lasted 21 days, from Dec. 16, 1995, to Jan. 6, 1996, and resulted in 284,000 federal furloughs while another 475,000 employees worked without pay.
Gingrich and Republicans were widely blamed for the shutdowns. Mindful of the political consequences, Republicans, Democrats and the White House all said last week that they didnâ€™t want the government to close.
Still, some bad blood and unfinished business continues. While lauding the compromise measure, Boehner blasted Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., for blocking a Senate vote on a House-approved spending package that would cut more than $60 billion over the next seven months.
The measure would pare such programs as job training and employment grants, health centers, high-speed rail, diplomatic programs, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and reduce funding for border security.
â€œThe House passed legislation â€” reflecting the will of the people â€” that would keep the government running through October while cutting spending,â€ Boehner told the religious broadcasters. â€œThe leader of the United States Senate has refused to allow a vote on this legislation.â€
Bracing for a fight, congressional Democratic leaders continued to balk at the size and scope of the cuts in the House bill.
â€œRepublicans must abandon the extreme and arbitrary cuts they called for in their spending bill that passed the House … and move closer to Democratsâ€™ position of cutting spending in a smart, targeted way,â€ House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer said Friday.
Even some Republicans expressed concerns about the long-term impact of the proposed cuts. Arizona Republican Gov. Jan. Brewer, lauded by GOP leaders for pushing through Arizonaâ€™s controversial new immigration laws, acknowledged that one cut approved by House Republicans could lead to 685 Border Patrol agents being let go, a problem for her state.
â€œI believe that we need as much resources that are necessary to get our borders secure,â€ Brewer said Sunday on ABCâ€™s â€œThis Week.â€ â€œThe bottom line is, is that the budget has not been completed. Iâ€™m hopeful that it will be reinstated, the dollars. And I hope those dollars end up in Arizona, and in Texas and in California.â€
In state after state, the battle lines so far have fallen largely along party lines.