Though there have been positive signs from Senate Democratic leaders on a two-week CR offered by House Republicans late last week in order to avert a government shutdown on March 5, senior Senate Democratic leadership aides insisted Monday that Democrats are "still reviewing" the proposal to trim $4 billion from the budget.
"Some seem ok with it, others want to counter offer," said one of the aides, noting that Democrats will meet Monday and Tuesday to review the proposal, called a continuing resolution (CR), and decide what to do next.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., recommended a 30-day CR clean of real-time spending cuts, in order to buy time to negotiate with House Republicans on a bill to fund the government for the rest of the fiscal year. Reid made clear he would consider deeper spending cuts.
For weeks, the parties have traded barbed accusations in the government shutdown blame game, with Democrats labeling Republicans as "extreme" in their drive to dramatically cut discretionary spending. Republicans accused Democrats of being "defenders of the status quo." And that argument, despite back-room compromise talks, continued into Monday.
Chastising Democrats for calling "anybody who wanted to cut a dime in spending 'an extremist'," Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell charged, "I'll tell you what's extreme: $20 trillion dollars in debt is extreme. Half a trillion dollars in interest payments a year is extreme. Refusing to agree to even try to live within your means is extreme."
"This week, Democrats will have an opportunity to show that they've gotten the message. They can show they agree the time has come to change the status quo," McConnell urged, though the leader has said even he does not agree with all of the cuts made by his House GOP colleagues.
And even if agreement can be found on a short term funding measure, a compromise is far from certain beyond that, as many House fiscal hawk conservatives are insisting that the leadership hem closely to its already-passed $61 billion in spending cuts, reductions Senate Democrats have called, well, extreme.
Meanwhile, the Senate Appropriations Committee intends to hear from Pentagon officials Tuesday on the "impact of a long-term continuing resolution to fund the Department of Defense." Robert Hale, the lead financial officer at DOD, is scheduled to testify. Recently, Hale told reporters that if a CR is in place to fund DOD for the remainder of the year, as members are planning, "bad things would occur."
"We won't have enough funds to meet our national security commitments, in our view," Hale said, adding, "We won't have enough flexibility - for example, we can't have any new starts under this CR, nor can we have any increases in procurement rates."
Hale said 50 major military construction projects have been delayed as a result of Congressional inaction, and some contracts cannot be executed, as well. Lawmakers can choose to restore that funding, but that could prove controversial in the current environment.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates trimmed his department's recent request for 2011 by $8 billion in an effort to get Congress on board. But fiscal hawks and liberal Democrats have shown more of a desire to cut Pentagon funds recently, a budget in the past that was largely considered sacrosanct.