Congress approved an additional $6 billion in spending cuts Thursday, passing legislation to keep the government running through April 8 and allow time for talks on a larger package of reductions demanded by Republicans.
The measure brought the total of cuts to $10 billion since Republicans took control of the House in January on a promise to rein in the federal government. It cleared the Senate on Thursday on 87-13 vote one day after passing the House.
Administration officials have already met with top aides to House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Harry, Reid, D-Nev. to discuss a compromise package of cuts that would be included in a longer-term bill funding the government for the six months remaining in the budget year.
The House has passed a bill calling for $61 billion in cuts, but it lacks enough support to pass in the Senate, and Obama has threatened to veto it.
It is not clear what, if any, progress has been made toward a possible compromise. The most significant decisions aren’t expected to be made until lawmakers return to the Capitol after a 10-day vacation.
The $6 billion, combined with $4 billion enacted earlier, drew expressions of satisfaction from Republicans.
“All in all, a good day’s work,” said Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz.
While lawmakers in both parties hailed the $10 billion as the largest cutback in decades, it is dwarfed in the context of a $1.6 trillion deficit estimated for the current fiscal year.
Any attempt to cut significantly into the red ink would have to expand beyond the domestic programs covered by the bill that passed Thursday, and include benefit programs such as Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.
With a new three-week timetable set for negotiations, Republicans, Democrats and the White House all maneuvered for position.
“It’s time for President Obama to finally come to the table and start engaging in this discussion,” Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., said in a statement.
But one Senate Democrat, Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, sought to drive a political wedge between Boehner and the 87 first-term Republican lawmakers in the House, many of them backed by tea party supporters.
“Speaker Boehner wouldn’t have been able to pass this short-term measure without Democratic votes, and he won’t be able to pass a long-term one without Democratic votes either,” he said.
“It’s clear that there is no path to compromise that goes through the tea party. We urge Speaker Boehner to push ahead without them. We are ready to work with him if he is willing to buck the extreme element of his party.”
Schumer’s remark was a reference to the 54 House Republicans who opposed the $6 billion bill on Wednesday. But in fact, of the first-term conservatives most often identified as tea party-backed, 66 voted for the measure and only 21 were opposed.
Boehner’s office issued a statement saying the cuts approved so far “are nowhere close to what is needed; nor are they an adequate substitute for a long-term bill that cuts spending and funds the government through September — legislation the Senate has consistently failed to pass.
“Democrats control the Senate and the White House, and they remain the majority party in Washington. Where is their plan? Who is in charge?”
Purely in numerical terms, the two sides are tens of billions of dollars apart.
Beyond the cuts themselves, though, Obama has spoken forcefully against attempts by House Republicans to cut funding that pays teacher salaries, among other priorities.
Additionally, the House-passed bill includes numerous provisions that are not directly related to budget cuts, and are opposed by the White House and most Democrats. Among them are proposals to cut all the funding needed to implement the year-old health care law, block federal regulations scheduled to take effect on several industries, and deny all federal funds to Planned Parenthood.
Additionally, while Republicans argue that deep cuts in federal spending are needed to help private companies create jobs, Democrats counter that some of the cuts contained in the House-passed measure could mean layoffs for teachers and others who are on government payrolls.
The Senate voted as House Republicans were approving yet another bill to cut spending, this one drafted to end federal support for National Public Radio.
The bill cleared on a partisan vote of 228-192, and the White House issued a statement in advance criticizing the measure but stopping short of a veto threat.
The bill would bar the government from funding NPR, and prohibit local public radio stations from using any of their federal funds to pay dues to the organization or buy its programs.
The bill faces strong opposition in the Senate.
Copyright © 2011 The Associated Press