Both Democratic and Republican aides said efforts continued over the weekend to fashion a bill with $33 billion in spending cuts, but they also said neither side intends to officially announce a “deal” on that plan.
Instead, once staff members from the House and Senate appropriations committees finish their effort, the legislation will be presented to rank-and-file lawmakers to determine if there are enough votes to pass it. The wild card remains the 87 House Republican freshmen who won in the fall largely on tea party pledges to slash government spending and who are pushing for much deeper cuts.
In addition to the political and policy obstacles to overcome, the legislators also face new procedural hurdles that could make a deal more difficult to achieve on time.
Under new House Republican rules, any bill to be voted on Friday would have to be posted by Tuesday night. Republican leaders have also come out against approving another stopgap measure to keep federal agencies open a few extra days as they finish their work.
For now, Democrats and Republicans are operating in a parallel legislative universe, at least publicly.
Led by Vice President Biden, Democrats have embraced the effort to find $33 billion in cuts compared with last year’s funding levels, while House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) has publicly denied agreeing to that number and has said he is pushing for deeper spending cuts.
At the same time, senior aides and lawmakers acknowledge that $33 billion is the goal, with the key hurdles being which items would be cut and whether Republicans can win the inclusion of policy prescriptions on social and regulatory issues.
Democrats are also pushing to draw savings from programs that are outside the annual appropriations bills that fund most of the federal government, contending billions of dollars in cuts could come from mandatory spending programs inside the Agriculture and Treasury departments.
The time crunch has left some lawmakers bracing for a shutdown. Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), whose suburban Maryland district is home to 80,000 federal workers, said he thinks there is at least a “50-50 chance” of a shutdown. The top Democrat on the House Budget Committee, Van Hollen said that even a government closure for several days would send a “a very bad signal” to American voters and the international community that Washington cannot function.
“I think it harms people’s confidence in the federal government,” Van Hollen said.