WASHINGTON - Congress is moving rapidly to pass legislation funding the federal government through Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year, as Senate leaders yesterday expressed eagerness to avoid any threat of agency shutdowns when money runs out on March 27.
WASHINGTON — Congress is moving rapidly to pass legislation funding the federal government through Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year, as Senate leaders yesterday expressed eagerness to avoid any threat of agency shutdowns when money runs out on March 27.
“I’m cautiously optimistic we’re going to reach a solution before we leave here for the Easter recess,” which is scheduled to begin on March 23, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said yesterday.
Reid’s Republican counterpart, Sen. Mitch McConnell, gave a similarly upbeat assessment. “There seems to be no interest on either side in having a kind of confrontational government-shutdown scenario,” he said.
Their comments follow Republicans’ introduction of a new funding bill in the House that will keep in place $85 billion worth of controversial, across-the-board “sequester” spending cuts triggered on Friday.
The House measure, expected to win passage today, aims to partially shield some defense and veterans programs from the indiscriminate cuts by including two updated military-related spending bills. It also would shift some funds to security-related efforts such as border and embassy security, prisons and FBI operations.
Next week, Senate Democrats will move their version of the bill for a vote and are likely to add funding flexibility for some domestic programs, party aides said.
Both the House and Senate versions are expected to cap discretionary spending at $1.043 trillion for the full 2013 fiscal year, but this would be reduced to around $982 billion if the sequester cuts remain in place.Meanwhile, the White House announced yesterday that tours of the executive mansion will be canceled starting on Saturday, citing “staffing reductions resulting from sequestration.” The tours will not be rescheduled and the freeze will be in effect “until further notice.”“We very much regret having to take this action, particularly during the popular spring touring season,” the White House said in a recorded message on the tour hot line.Within hours of the announcement, Republicans began to criticize the decision. One GOP congressman offered his own solution to the budget cutting at the White House. In an amendment to a bill to fund the government, Texas Rep. Louis Gohmert proposed that none of the money “may be used to transport the president to or from a golf course until public tours of the White House resume.”Once the funding bill for the remainder of this fiscal year is enacted, Congress promptly will turn to its next fiscal battle: a budget blueprint for the 2014 fiscal year that begins on Oct. 1.
Republican Rep. Paul Ryan, chairman of the Budget Committee, next week is expected to release a budget blueprint that aims to achieve balance in 10 years. But to achieve this, he might have to row back on at least one promise he made last year as the Republican vice-presidential candidate — that any cuts to the Medicare health program will not affect anyone 55 or older.
He has floated a plan to push the age threshold up to 56 to reap additional savings from the program.
And sometime this summer, Congress and President Barack Obama will be engaged in yet another fight over the need to raise the debt ceiling.
It is unclear whether either of these measures will bring Democrats and Republicans together on a long-term deficit-reduction deal.
Information from McClatchy Newspapers was included in this story