A March 5th government shutdown is seeming less likely as Senate and House leaders come closer together on the idea of a short-term continuing resolution to keep the federal government running.
While criticizing House Republicans for talking nearly exclusively about trying to avoid a shutdown, Jon Summers, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., says that a short-term spending bill might okay. He also adds that the House Republicans should abandon what he calls the "my way or the highway" approach.
"The plan Republicans are floating today sounds like a modified version of what Democrats were talking about," Summers said in a statement. "If we need a little more time to agree on a responsible path forward, we should pass a short-term CR for no longer than the next month."
But Reid's spokesman didn't go as far as to endorse the two-week extension the House GOP has proposed.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell suggests agreement on a short term extension could lead to further cooperation between Democrats and Republicans as they move forward on a longer-term budget.
"... there is now a clear path to finishing this short-term measure before the March 4th deadline," McConnell said in a statement. "By supporting the House bill, our friends on the other side of the aisle will have the chance to ensure that the government remains operational while we work with them to identify additional ways to shrink Washington spending this year."
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, says the resolution House Republicans put forth Friday is a "responsible" solution.
"The American people want the government to stay open, and they want us to cut spending," Boehner said in a statement. "We're listening, and this responsible proposal will save taxpayers $4 billion by eliminating earmark slush funds and focusing on spending cuts President Obama already proposed."
The House of Representatives toiled until after 1 am on two nights last week, nearly 4 am another night and close to 5 Saturday morning. Lawmakers were slogging through a crucial bill to fund the government through September 30 and shave $61 billion from the deficit.
This was an effort to avert a potential government shutdown on March 4. That's when the government is scheduled to run out of money.
And on Friday, the House Republican braintrust announced they'll do it all over again next week by debating a smaller, shorter-term measure to keep the government humming through March 18.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) says his party wants to send the Senate not one but two pieces of legislation to consider in an effort to keep the government operating.
"A government shutdown is not an acceptable action," said Cantor. "We hope the Senate will finally join us and not play chicken with a government shutdown."
Freshman Rep. Steve Womack (R-AR) suggested that the GOP was offering a take it or leave it deal.
"We need to stand our ground and stay the course," Womack said.
That prompted a key Senate Democrat to accuse the GOP of tinkering with a government shutdown.
"There is 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," said Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY). "That is reckless and irresponsible."
However, Republicans put the onus on the Democratically-controlled Senate to approve the near-term package to avoid a closure.
"If (Senate Democrats) walk away from this, they're engineering a government shutdown," said Chief Deputy Whip Peter Roskam (R-IL).
The Senate hasn't debated any spending legislation to run government services beyond March 4. House Republicans didn't immediately release specifics of their legislation. But GOP leaders the package would include $4 billion in spending reductions that they believe President Obama can sign into law. The House plans to consider the bill next Tuesday.
Cantor said there were some indications from the Senate on Thursday that it might be able to accept the shorter-term spending measure, known as a Continuing Resolution, or "CR" in Washington-speak. By definition, CR's are emergency government bills which pay for federal programs at current funding levels or less.
"Maybe we're going to see a small step in the right direction," said Cantor of potential Senate signals. "But we need to see the details with what (the Senate) comes forward with."
The GOP's stopgap bill failed to impress House Democrats. A senior House Democratic leadership aide likened the Republicans offer to "a child taking his toys and going home."
Democrats contend they have no role in the GOP's decision-making process of what they might put on the floor next week.
"House Republicans have been sitting around one table by themselves," said the senior aide. "And that table is Speaker John Boehner's (R-OH) table."
In early February, House Republicans initially proposed a long-term spending bill stocked with $32 billion in cuts. But the influential, conservative freshman class howled that those cuts weren't deep enough. That prompted a series of additional cuts, bringing the grand total to $61billion.
Senior Congressional Democratic sources tell Fox that the Senate and President Obama could have accepted the original measure loaded with $32 billion in cuts. But Roskam dismissed those talks.
"We've heard wildly conflicting reports coming out of the Senate," said Roskam. "Chasing around some magic number that's whispered in corridors in Washington isn't a way to govern."
A senior House Democratic source told Fox that it was in fact House Republicans who were "chasing" a number and pointed to the alterations to the original spending bill.
If the House, Senate and president agree to the GOP's proposal by the end of the day on March 4, the government will run until at least 11:59 pm on March 18 and avoid a potential shutdown. But many lawmakers on both sides of the aisle concede that this latest plan may simply kick the can down the road and could create the possibility of a gigantic impasse in mid-March.