Senate Dems to propose seven-month funding measure

Senate Democrats are working on a seven-month continuing resolution to fund the government past March 4 that reduces spending below current levels, a concession they argue contrasts with House Republicans' refusal to negotiate.

Democratic aides said the bill would cut $8.5 billion by eliminating previously approved earmarks. The bill would also accelerate about $24.7 billion in program eliminations or reductions sought by President Obama in his fiscal 2012 budget proposal. The Democrats' CR would reduce that funding starting after March 4, not on Oct. 1 at the start of the 2012 fiscal year.

Leadership and Appropriations staffers met Thursday morning and hope in the next few days to decide how many of Obama's proposed reductions "we could support," a Democratic leadership aide said. There is little chance Democrats will include more controversial proposed cuts to items like Community Development Block Grants, Great Lakes environmental restoration and the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program.

Democrats said they plan to present the proposal to House Republicans by early next week and hope to then reach a compromise somewhere between a spending freeze and the approximately $61 billion in cuts in the House-passed CR. Democrats contrasted that offer with that they say is House Republicans' refusal, in staff-level talks in recent days, to negotiate at all.

While there is little chance of Senate passage of the bill before the current CR expires on March 4, Democrats suggest the bill offers the basis for a deal that would prevent a continuing series of battles over short-term CRs.

"The goal would be, have a solution on a long-term measure rather than continuing to haggle," the Democratic leadership aide said. "It is the first move by either side off of their initial starting point, and we'll see if they make a similar move."

A Democratic aide briefed on the talks said a GOP staffer told Democrats that House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, would not budge because the freshman and conservative Republicans would reject any compromise as a cave-in.

According to the aide, the staffer said only a government shutdown would convince conservatives to soften their stance, leaving GOP leaders no room to negotiate now.

Michael Steel, a spokesman for Boehner, called that account false, but declined to comment on the meetings.

Republicans have said publicly, however, that rather than negotiate over a long-term spending measure, they want Senate Democrats to take up the House-passed CR. Steel said House Republicans, having passed a CR that covers the rest of the fiscal year, are focused on a two-week stopgap bill.

That bill maintains the position staked out in the CR, essentially including the same level of reductions, over two weeks, that their broader bill proposes for the year.

Democrats argue that in pushing such a bill, Republicans are attempting to incrementally force through the same cuts in House CR.

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