White House ok with immediate spending cuts

The Associated Press
Monday, February 28, 2011; 5:20 PM

WASHINGTON -- Siding with congressional Republicans, the White House voiced general approval Monday for a short-term bill that makes immediate cuts in federal spending while preventing a threatened government shutdown.

"We're pleased that there seems to be some progress and we think we're moving in the right direction,"' press secretary Jay Carney said of a bill that Republicans intend to pass in the House on Tuesday.

Carney stressed that President Barack Obama opposes a shutdown, a position that lawmakers in both parties also have taken. His remarks were the latest indication that Congress will ensure that funds don't run out on March 4.

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of California has criticized the Republican bill, which would cut $4 billion while keeping the government funded through March 18.

In the Senate, Democratic officials stressed last week that Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York and other members of the leadership oppose using a short-term bill to make any cuts in spending.

At the White House, Carney did not specifically say whether Obama would sign a two-week spending bill, saying he did not want to "get into any specific time frames."

The cuts proposed by Republicans would come from programs the White House recommended be reduced or terminated in the 2012 fiscal year beginning Oct. 1, and from funds set aside for earmarks.

Republicans were eager to draw attention to an evident lack of unity among Democrats on the issue of federal spending, which figured prominently in elections last fall that gave the GOP control of the House and additional seats in the Senate.

Rep. Peter Roskam, R-Ill., a member of the leadership, said there was evidence of tensions between House and Senate Democrats. "I hope that the Democrats are able to get over their divisions,"' he said, adding that Republicans have been united.

Along the same lines, Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., said at a news conference that more senators favor the House's position on cuts than Reid "may prefer to believe."'

Democrats hold a 53-47 majority in the Senate, including two independents. But an unknown number of Democrats advocate immediate spending cuts and appear unwilling to support a short-term spending bill at current levels, as their own leadership prefers.

A short-term bill is needed to give lawmakers time to negotiate a more sweeping measure that would carry the government through to the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30.

A $1.2 trillion House-passed bill for that purpose includes $61 billion in cuts as well as provisions to prevent implementation of the new health care law and block federal regulations proposed for several industries. Obama has threatened a veto, and the measure stands no chance of passage in the Senate.

It is unclear how long negotiations on a compromise might take.

For their part, some Republicans said during the day they are prepared to pass additional interim measures to keep the government open beyond March 18, as long as they include spending cuts.

Carney said there was a limit to that approach.

"`We believe is that if we keep returning to this process every couple of weeks that will be bad for the economy because of the uncertainty it creates and the tension around that," he said.

© 2011 The Associated Press