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Posted at 01:09 PM ET, 03/15/2011

Who moves next on federal budget? Depends on who you ask

Congressional leaders can’t see eye-to-eye on keeping the government funded for the next three weeks, let alone the next six months – and now, they can’t even agree on who ought to move next in the ongoing budget battle.

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said Tuesday that the ball is in House Republicans’ court because Democrats have “made two offers” – President Obama’s fiscal year 2011 budget and the plan put forth by Senate Democrats, which failed last week along with House Republicans’ plan.

“They ran, said they were going to lead and said that they had answers. ... They’ve rejected our offers, so it’s their turn. Why? Because the Constitution says we initiate these appropriations bills, and they’re in charge,” Hoyer said.

House Republicans, meanwhile, have insisted that the next step is up to Senate Democrats and the White House. They note that while the Senate rejected both proposals last week, the upper chamber has yet to pass a funding bill; they also charge that the White House has failed to lead in the ongoing budget negotiations, and that Democrats are the ones who are divided on cutting spending.

“The House passed a bill to cut $61 billion from the current spending levels,” House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said Tuesday morning. “What has the Senate passed? They’ve passed nothing. Why can’t the Senate show us what they’re capable of producing? I don’t know what that number is. When we get that number, we’ll have a better opportunity to have real negotiations and a real conference on cutting spending and reducing the uncertainty and creating a better environment for job creation.”

On the House floor later Tuesday, Rep. Rob Woodall (R-Ga.) reiterated that point. “Now we wait for the Senate to come to the table and lay out its vision,” he said, adding that he’d like the House to take action, but “we cannot move to that point until the Senate acts.”

Meanwhile, in criticizing House Republican leaders for not introducing their own revised spending measure, House Democrats have speculated that the hesi­ta­tion is due to the disagreement among the GOP’s rank-and-file members, many of whom have insisted on deeper spending cuts.

“My supposition is the problem is when they made their offer and led in their caucus, it was rejected in their caucus. ... My suspicion is the reason they’re not making an offer and the reason they’re looking to everybody else to lead is because they have such division in their ranks,” Hoyer said Tuesday. House Republicans have said that’s not the case.

Both chambers are in recess next week, meaning that the three-week stopgap bill that’s currently being considered by the House would actually only give lawmakers two weeks in Washington to hammer out an agreement. That’s the same amount of time that the previous stopgap gave – and lawmakers have only been able to progress on another stopgap (and even then, only tenuously).

At least one member has suggested canceling next week’s recess so Congress can remain in Washington to work – although the lawmaker who came up with the idea, Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), made no mention of the budget battle, saying instead that the time would be best spent on revising parts of the national health care law.

So what’s the next step in the longer-term government funding battle? It remains unclear, and we may not know until the latest stopgap measure clears the House and Senate. In fact, about the only thing that appears to be clear at the moment is that no one on Capitol Hill is a fan of stopgaps.

“This is no way to run a budget process,” Rep. James McGovern (D-Mass.) said on the House floor. “It is no way to run a government. It’s like water torture. Drip. Drip. Drip.”

Hoyer, too, opposed the idea of continued stopgap bills. “I’ll tell you what we’re not going to do: we’re not going to do $2 billion a week for the next 30 weeks. Period,” he said at his pen-and-pad briefing.

And Woodall in his floor remarks reminded his fellow members that the gridlock over the current stopgap is only a small part of the greater budget debate. “I’ll say it over and over and over again today: This is last year’s business, and it is distracting us from the important business,” he said.

Who moves next on the important business, of course, is an open question.

By  |  01:09 PM ET, 03/15/2011

 
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