WASHINGTON — The top Democrat in the Senate said Tuesday that he'll bring legislation to the floor next week to keep the government running at current spending levels for 30 days to avoid a shutdown in March.
The move by Majority Leader Harry Reid is in keeping with long-standing tradition, but it was rejected by GOP leaders, who assailed the Nevada Democrat for freezing spending at levels inflated by generous budget increases provided under President Barack Obama.
A short-term bill is required because the House and the Senate are far apart on a budget for fiscal 2011. On Saturday, the House passed a $1.2 trillion omnibus spending bill to finance the government through Sept. 30. That measure would slash domestic agency budgets by more than $60 billion over the last seven months of the budget year. It will take weeks or even months to work out differences with the Senate on the spending bill, thus requiring the stopgap bill.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, rejected Reid's proposal. Boehner said, as he did last week, that the House will not pass a stopgap bill, known as a continuing resolution, at existing rates of spending.
"The House will pass a short-term spending bill — one that also cuts spending," Boehner said in a statement. "Senate Democratic leaders are insisting on a status quo that has left us with a mountain of debt."
Unless someone budges, a partial government shutdown could occur March 5 for the first time since two partial shutdowns in 1995-1996, including one that spanned three weeks. The stopgap measure that is currently funding the government expires on March 4.
Reid warned of dire consequences in the event of an impasse. "A shutdown could send our fragile economy back into a recession," Reid said.
The White House says the government is prepared for a shutdown under long-standing contingency plans that have remained in effect since the Reagan administration.