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Posted at 02:09 PM ET, 03/04/2011

Senate Democrats release government funding proposal; votes likely next week

Senate Democrats on Friday introduced their plan for keeping the federal government funded through September, with a vote on the measure as well as a House-passed proposal expected to come as early as next Tuesday.

The Senate Democratic plan, which was put forth one day after a bipartisan, bicameral meeting between congressional leaders and Vice President Joe Biden, includes about $6.5 billion in cuts offered by the White House on Thursday.

In announcing the measure, S. 149, Senate Democrats argued that their plan “makes prudent cuts that will allow the government to meet its obligations to the American people, while sparing our economy from further damage at a time of great uncertainty. It makes necessary investments in a limited number of targeted programs that are essential to national security and for maintaining the most basic of government services.”

They also took aim at many of the House-passed cuts as “simply irresponsible, made in order to meet an arbitrary number used as part of a campaign promise.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) asked consent on the Senate floor Friday afternoon to hold votes Tuesday on both the Senate Democratic plan and the House-passed measure, H.R. 1, which would cut $61 billion from current levels.

“If H.R. 1 doesn’t pass – and it won’t pass – and if ours doesn’t pass, we at least know where we stand, Mr. President, to move this ball down the road a little further,” Reid said.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) temporarily objected to Reid’s move, however, arguing that lawmakers need more time to look at the specifics of the Democratic bill.

“We need to have a chance over the weekend to take a look at what our friends have offered here and it could well be that by Monday, we will conclude this proposal that the Majority Leader has laid out is the best way to go forward,” McConnell said. “We’ll continue to talk about that over the weekend.”

Senate Democrats charged that the move by McConnell was an attempt to block an up-or-down vote on House Republicans’ spending plan, which Senate Republicans have been calling for since its passage in the House last month.

“By objecting to an up-or-down vote on the House bill, Senate Republicans are agreeing with us that the proposal is too extreme to pass as is,” Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in a statement. “Now that they have admitted they want changes to it just like we do, the real negotiations on the budget can finally begin.”

McConnell’s office contended that that wasn’t the case, noting that Reid and McConnell are slated to consult with their members and each other on the plan.

“Sen. Schumer must not have been on the floor at the time and missed the exchange between the Senate leaders where they discussed working together over the weekend to set up votes on both the House bill and the Democrats’ status quo bill,” said McConnell’s deputy chief of staff, Don Stewart.

Reid and McConnell are slated to consult with their members and each other on the plan.

In addition to the debate over keeping the federal government funded, the Senate is also dealing with a patent reform bill; action on that is expected to wrap up by Tuesday morning, meaning that Tuesday would be the earliest the Senate could take up the government funding measures.

Neither the Senate Democratic plan nor the House-passed bill is likely to garner the 60 votes necessary to avert a filibuster; the failure of both measures, however, would allow House and Senate leaders to make the case to their rank-and-file members that a compromise is necessary.

By  |  02:09 PM ET, 03/04/2011

 
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