Senate working on short-term funding measure

Senate appropriators are working on a short-term continuing resolution to fund the federal government for fiscal 2011 that is expected to run through early next year - a scenario that sets up a spending fight with the White House just as the fiscal 2012 budget process gets underway.

According to Senate GOP and Democratic aides, the exact length of the CR is still being determined, but the discussions so far have focused on a period of between 45 and 90 days. Other details being worked out include adjustments to spending levels for programs that may require increases over fiscal 2010 levels.

However, the aides did not rule out the possibility that the CR could possibly be finished Saturday and brought to the Senate floor for consideration, but that seemed unlikely. The Senate and House have until Tuesday to pass the CR after both chambers cleared a five-day CR Friday and President Obama signed it into law Saturday. The previous stop-gap funding measure expires at midnight Saturday.

The House adjourned after passing the five-day stopgap, but will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, with votes as early as 11 a.m.

Action on the CR comes after Senate Republicans on Thursday killed a $1.108 trillion end-of-year omnibus package which Democrats had hoped to clear before midnight Saturday.

Democrats have argued that the omnibus would have been a better option because it would allow Congress -- after reviewing the performance and needs of government programs -- to make changes in funding levels.

"A CR does virtually nothing to accommodate the priorities of the Congress and it abdicates responsibility for providing much needed oversight of the requests of the Executive Branch," Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, said in a speech Friday.

Instead, Republicans are pushing for a short-term CR into early next year. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., Thursday introduced a CR that would fund government programs at current levels through Feb. 18.

Republicans want to force Democrats to punt on fiscal 2011 spending decisions until next year when the GOP will have more influence and can make good on campaign promises to slash the federal budget and reduce the deficit.

The White House Friday signaled that it would prefer a CR to cover the remaining nine months of fiscal 2011 and avoid a spending fight at the beginning of the year.

"Our folks are working with Democrats and Republicans to see what the options are for continuing resolutions," White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said at an off-camera briefing. He reiterated that the president's preference would have been a bill without earmarks, as the administration has been saying for the past several days.

Gibbs also said that the administration would prefer a year-long funding measure, rather than the two-month CR proposed by McConnell.

But it appears that Congress and the White House are edging towards a fight on appropriations early next year when the House will be under Republican control and more GOP members will be in the Senate.

A spending standoff would complicate Congressional consideration of the president's fiscal 2012 budget and likely push back the Congressional budget and appropriations process next year.

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