Senate Dems Eye Spending Cuts - Government Shutdown Still Possible

As Congress fast approaches the March 4 deadline after which government funding runs out, Senate Democratic leadership and Appropriations Committee staffers are, for the first time, working to pinpoint deeper spending cuts that could become part of a longer-term government funding resolution, two senior Senate Democratic leadership aides tell Fox News.

The aides said Democratic staffers are looking at dropping the roughly $8.5 billion in earmarks, part of the current bill funding the government. The staffers are also looking at President Obama's recently-submitted FY2012 budget to see if some of the proposed cuts could be implemented immediately. The aide could offer no examples, as the search is in its early stages.

Democrats hope this move will pressure Republicans to agree to spending cuts that fall short of the $61 billion in cuts already approved by the House GOP as part of their campaign promise made during the 2010 midterm elections.  Senate Democratic leadership staff are in talks with their House GOP counterparts on a resolution.

Still, aides on both sides of the aisle told Fox there are currently no negotiations on how to fund the government for an interim period while lawmakers work out a longer term solution. This would be needed, if no compromise could be found before March 5.

House Republican leaders rejected an offer earlier this week by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., to freeze current spending levels in a 30-day continuing resolution (CR).

Likewise, Democrats scoffed at a two-week House GOP-proposed CR containing a reported $4 billion in spending cuts. The measure is expected to be introduced Friday.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, is in a difficult position, though, with his Tea Party-backed freshmen insisting on deep spending cuts now, a factor that could hamstring talks with Democrats who have called the House GOP cuts "draconian."

Rep. Tim Scott (R-SC), one of those freshmen who is also a liaison to the GOP leadership, recently told Fox's Chad Pergram that a government shutdown was possible if it forced both sides to agree on a broader package of cuts.

"I think nothing's off the table at this point," Scott replied, though he did note that no one wants to shutter the government.

Nevertheless, Congressional Republicans and Democrats remain on a collision course with just six days to avert a government shutdown.