Reid promises to pass House spending bill, averting federal shutdown

Senate Democratic leaders have agreed to pass a short-term spending bill pushed through the House by Republicans Tuesday, ending the threat of a government shutdown at least until March 18.

Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., promised that the Senate will pass the bill to keep the government operating for two weeks beyond a March 4 deadline, when a stopgap spending measure runs out, then sent a plea for help to the White House, urging President Obama to get more involved in the budget negotiations.

The Senate leader was echoing the words of House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, who earlier Tuesday said Obama had not played much of a role in the months-long budget stalemate.

“We'll pass this,” Reid said of the GOP bill, following a closed-door meeting with Senate Democrats Tuesday afternoon. “And then we'll look to funding the government on a long-term basis. The president's going to get involved in this.”

The House overwhelmingly approved the short-term spending bill with the help of more than 100 Democrats as both parties look to avoid shouldering the blame for a shutdown.

Republicans crafted the bill in a way that made it hard for Democrats to refuse. While the measure cuts $4 billion in spending, the reductions come from eliminating politically unpopular earmarks and excising programs Obama targeted for elimination in his 2012 budget request.

Reid has rejected a separate GOP-passed measure to fund the government for the final seven months of the fiscal year that slashes $61.5 billion in spending and includes what he called “really bad stuff” that most Democrats oppose, including language striking funding for the health care reform law.

Many Democrats streaming out of the private meeting with Reid told The Washington Examiner they would vote for the short-term bill, which Reid said will be considered on the Senate floor in a day or two.

“It's a gesture of goodwill,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said, adding that she hopes it will allow for negotiations between the two parties on a bill that will fund the rest of the fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30.

Reid said he wanted a bill that funded the government for at least another month, not just two weeks. He called the GOP plan “a terrible way to govern.”

The House passed the bill by a vote of 335-91. Republican leaders were able to maintain the support of their large faction of fiscally conservative freshmen, who favor the bill that cuts $61.5 billion, by ensuring that the short-term cuts are proportional to the long-term spending cuts.

“I support this bill because it cuts spending and prevents a government shutdown,” said Rep. Kristi Noem, R-S.D., a freshman leader and Tea Party activist.

Obama, meanwhile, appeared to be edging closer to taking on a leading role in the negotiations.

According to White House press secretary Jay Carney, Obama and Boehner talked by phone for about 10 minutes Tuesday to discuss the budget.

sferrechio@washingtonexaminer.com

Bay Area NewsPoliticsSusan FerrechioWashington

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