The short-term deal on a continuing resolution that seems to have alleviated the threat of a government shutdown might do little to soften positions over a broader spending measure for the rest of the fiscal year.
Senate Democrats have stopped just short of fully accepting a two-week GOP proposal that cuts spending $4 billion below current levels. The measure includes about the same level of cuts over two weeks as a House-passed CR does over seven months. But in a bid toward compromise, it focuses on different programs than the House CR, generating its reductions immediately by implementing program cuts sought by President Obama in fiscal 2012, which starts in October. The current CR, passed in December, extends through March 4.
Faced with GOP opposition, Senate Democrats lack the votes to pass their own short-term CR in just a few days this week, and House Republicans are expected to pass their two-week bill on Tuesday. That will leave the onus for avoiding a shutdown on the Senate. In that situation, Democrats now appear prepared to accept the GOP bill rather than allow a government shutdown.
Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, D-N.D., on Sunday said $4 billion in cuts over two weeks is "acceptable." And a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., on Friday tepidly embraced the GOP proposal as an imitation of a plan floated last by Senate Democrats to accelerate cuts proposed by Obama in a seven-month CR.
"We hope this is a sign that they have abandoned" a "my-way-or-the-highway approach," Reid spokesman Jon Summers said.
The most likely course in the Senate this week is for Reid to bring up the House-passed CR on Tuesday or Wednesday and attempt to attach a short-term CR preferred by Democrats. If, as expected, that motion fails, Democrats will probably pass the GOP bill keeping the government funded through March 18.
House Republicans will then be in a strong position to push future short-term CRs with similar spending cuts to the one proposed Friday if a long-term CR deal is not reached quickly. For Democrats, that situation creates the danger that House conservatives will be emboldened to avoid giving ground on a long-term CR, since they can achieve about the same spending reductions, prorated, with a series of short-term bills.