WASHINGTON – House Republicans on Friday urged Senate Democrats to accept $4 billion in cuts as a compromise to keep the government running for two weeks past a March 4 deadline.
"A government shutdown is not an acceptable or responsible option for Republicans," House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia said in a conference call where he and other Republicans promoted their plan for avoiding the first government shutdown since 1996.
They said failure to work out a deal would put the responsibility for a disruption of government services on the Democrats.
With only a week left before federal spending authority runs out, both parties have sought to preemptively blame the other if a shutdown does occur. Democrats who control the Senate have rejected as draconian a bill passed by the House last week that would fund the government through the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30 while carrying out $61 billion in spending cuts.
They have called for a short-term extension of federal spending so the parties can negotiate, but at current spending levels.
Cantor said the $4 billion they want to trim from the current budget over a two-week period would come from eliminating some of the earmarks or special projects already in the budget and accelerating spending cuts that President Barack Obama has proposed for fiscal year 2012 starting in October.
If Senate Democrats walk away from that offer, said Illinois Republican Peter Roskam, "they are then actively engineering a government shutdown."
Sen. Charles Schumer of New York, a member of the Senate Democratic leadership, responded that there was "the potential for a lot of overlap in what Republicans and Democrats want to do to cut spending, but they are threatening to force a shutdown if they don't get everything they want right away. That is reckless and irresponsible."
Roskam, the chief deputy Republican whip, said he was encouraged by reports that Senate Democrats are now considering cuts — similarly by eliminating earmarks and speeding up reductions proposed for the 2012 budget — in a plan to fund the government for the final seven months of this budget year. That, he said, was "a watershed for them."
But there was no indication from the Republicans that they were talking directly to the Democrats or were willing to give ground on either their $4 billion cut for two weeks or their $61 billion in cuts for the rest of the budget year.
"We hope the Senate is going to finally join us in these common sense cuts" to keep the government running and not continue to "play chicken" with a government shutdown, Cantor said.
The Republicans shrugged off an analysis by a Goldman Sachs economist that the $61 billion in cuts, if enacted, could slow economic growth this year by up to two percentage points.
Republican Whip Kevin McCarthy of California offered the GOP line that Obama's $814 billion stimulus package enacted two years ago showed that federal spending can't revive a faltering economy, and that what businesses need now is the certainty that the federal government will downsize. "There is more money sitting on the sidelines than there has been in the past 50 years," he said.