"We are going to fight for the largest spending cuts that we can get,"… (Alex Brandon, Associated…)
Reporting from Washington — Congressional budget negotiators are expected to work through the weekend on a $33-billion spending reduction package, but the two sides remain far apart on details and have little time to vote before Friday's deadline to avoid a federal government shutdown.
It appears increasingly likely that another stopgap measure — the seventh this fiscal year — may be needed as Republican and Democratic appropriators try to decide which domestic programs and services to cut for the remainder of 2011. All sides in the talks hope to avoid another temporary bill, as well as a government closure.
The Republican-led House last month approved $61 billion in cuts, reductions that conservatives and "tea party" activists still favor.
Facing continued tea party pressure, House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) insisted Friday that Republicans were pressing for larger cuts. The Senate, where Democrats are the majority, rejected the $61 billion in reductions last month.
"We are going to fight for the largest spending cuts that we can get, and I'm hopeful that we'll get it as soon as possible," Boehner said.
While negotiators work on details, Republicans want cuts to education, health, environment and other domestic programs they see as constituting big government. Democrats want to broaden the debate to include the rest of the federal budget not targeted by the GOP.
Negotiators also must decide on a long list of divisive policy issues, such as abortion and climate change.
Both sides are working to influence voters. Boehner delivers his party's weekly radio address on Saturday, and Democratic leaders, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), will argue their case on news shows Sunday.
On Friday, the House tried to ramp up the pressure by passing the Government Shutdown Prevention Act — a largely symbolic bill that would declare the $61-billion House-passed cuts the "law of the land" if the Senate did not pass its own legislation by Wednesday, two days before the shutdown deadline.
Democrats mocked Republicans for a bill attempting to bring back to life legislation that had already been soundly rejected by the Senate and carried no presidential signature.
Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) brought to the debate a copy of "House Mouse, Senate Mouse," a children's book on how a bill becomes a law that is sold in the House gift shop.
Rep. Alcee L. Hastings (D-Fla.) came to the floor with a drawing of the "Bill" character from the Saturday morning "Schoolhouse Rock" cartoons.
"My friends know how a bill becomes a law," Hastings said. "We're wasting our time on a patently unconstitutional measure."
The bill passed by a vote of 221-202. Fifteen Republicans voted against it.