As Senate Democrats and House Republicans continue negotiating a spending measure for the rest of this fiscal year, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, R-Nev., said on Friday he doesn't expect many of the policy riders now in the House-passed bill to survive in the final agreement.
"We are going to have a full discussion on the riders, but we are going to get the number agreed to first," Reid told reporters on a conference call. But he added, "We are not going to bend on some on these ridiculous riders they have."
In February, the House passed a GOP measure that would cap spending this year at $1.028 trillion, $61 billion below current spending levels.
The bill also included a number of policy provisions, also known as spending limitations, to stop initiatives that Republicans oppose. The policy riders include several to block parts of the Democrats' health care reform law; a provision to strip funding for Planned Parenthood; and another that would prohibit the Environmental Protection Agency from spending money to regulate greenhouse-gas emissions.
Senate Democrats oppose all of those, but some could end up in the final package in some form.
According to Democrats, House and Senate negotiators are working on a deal for the remainder of fiscal 2011 to cap spending at $1.055 trillion, which is $33 billion below current levels. The talks are touching on which policy riders to include in a final agreement, and the outcome on those issues could affect the top-line number.
House Speaker Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, told reporters on Friday, "There is no number, there's no agreement on numbers," and said, "We're going to fight for the largest spending cuts that we can get."
Boehner also repeated several times that the goal is not to shut the government down. Lawmakers have until midnight on April 8 to agree on either a funding measure for the rest of the fiscal year or another short-term extension to allow a deal to be considered and passed by Congress. Failure to do anything would lead to a government shutdown.
"You shut the government down, it'll end up costing more than you save," Boehner said, "because it'll interrupt contracts. A lot of problems with the idea of shutting the government. It is not the goal."
Reid also warned of the perils of a government shutdown. "Our fragile economy cannot afford a shutdown," he said. "Last time there was a shutdown, more than $3 billion in exports sat idle in our ports instead of being sold overseas."
But it's not clear if lawmakers will wrap up negotiations in time. Reid said he does not expect Congress to take up another short-term extension unless it is needed to "finalize the paperwork in the agreement that we make."
Boehner said he won't be in Washington for negotiations this weekend, but that appropriators "are doing their job," and that "other conversations" are taking place
Reid on Friday was very dismissive of the policy riders in the House-passed bill, including one that would prohibit funding for National Public Radio.
"We have said time and time again that the riders that are ridiculous in nature, and most of them are, have no chance of surviving," Reid said. "We are going give them the courtesy that we would want them to give us on these riders, we will look at them one by one, but there are some places we are not going to go. We are not going to deal with ... Planned Parenthood, National Public Radio. For me, personally, and I think for my caucus, we are not going to spend a lot of time on those."
On riders involving EPA, Reid said, "Neither the White House or the Senate leaders are going to accept any EPA riders that they have in their bill at this stage"
Reid also noted that negotiators are discussing how much in mandatory spending will be part of the final deal, but he didn't provide any other details. Democrats have pointed to agriculture subsidies that are no longer needed as an example of a possible mandatory cut.
Reid also mocked tea party members' rally at to the Capitol. "There were tens of them here yesterday; that's a chosen word, tens of them, who showed up at Capitol Hill," Reid said. "We could look at them out my balcony window here, and there weren't many to look at."
He also said that a vote in the House on Friday to reassert House support for the bill it passed in February was a waste of time.
"Unfortunately, today my colleagues in the House seem to be listening to this small but loud minority," Reid said. "I heard on the radio all kinds of accounts ... today about, they have to keep this number of $100 billion. Instead of working to create jobs, they are wasting time by voting yet again on a reckless spending bill."