Republicans controlling the House are moving quickly to pass stopgap legislation to avoid a partial shutdown of the government when temporary funding runs out Friday.
Tuesday's measure would keep the government running for two weeks to buy time for the Republican House, the Democratic Senate and the Obama White House to try to reach agreement on longer-term legislation to fund the government through the end of the budget year. It's a relatively mild volley in a party-defining spending battle that promises to go on for months or years.
Republicans want to slash a whopping $60 billion-plus from agency budgets over the coming months as a down payment on larger cuts later in the year, but are settling for just $4 billion in especially easy cuts as the price for the two-week stopgap bill.
Negotiations over a longer-term solution are likely to be very difficult as House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, seeks to satisfy his 87-member freshman class -- many of whom were elected with tea party support -- but still manage to reach a deal with Democrats controlling the Senate and the White House.
Tuesday's measure would keep federal agencies running at last year's spending levels through March 18, in line with two prior spending bills passed last year under Democratic control of Congress. It also adds in $4 billion in cuts to various programs, including some that Obama has sought to terminate and others that have billions of dollars set aside for pet projects sought by lawmakers. That money's not needed since Republicans have banned earmarks for at least two years.
Senate Democrats and the White House have reservations about the measure because it's clear it'll take longer than two weeks to reach agreement on the broader spending bill and because the $4 billion in cuts over two weeks is the same pace as cutting $60 billion through the Sept. 30 end of the budget year.
"Providing only 14 days for all parties to resolve their differences on a full-year measure is not realistic," said Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Wash., the top Democrat on the Appropriations Committee. "Setting up a shutdown crisis every two weeks disrupts the continuity of good government operations and long-term planning. It is not a responsible way to govern."
Democrats say the larger GOP measure would lead to the furlough of thousands of federal workers and pull money out of the economy, and could slow the fragile economic recovery. The cuts are far more dramatic than attempted under prior GOP control of Congress, and would hit or eliminate hundreds of programs, including education, food inspection, health research, environmental regulation and public broadcasting, among many others.
The White House took a conciliatory approach Monday to the short-term measure.
"We're pleased that there seems to be some progress and we think we're moving in the right direction," said press secretary Jay Carney.
At the same time, Republicans in the Senate have leverage that may prompt Democrats in the chamber to go along. Democrats control the Senate with 53 votes, but at least a handful of Democrats advocate immediate spending cuts and appear unwilling to support a short-term spending bill at current levels.