WASHINGTON - Talk of a government shutdown stepped up a notch on Capitol Hill on Thursday, when House Speaker John Boehner ruled out the easiest path around the current budget impasse.
Boehner, R-Ohio, told reporters that he would not support a stopgap measure to continue funding the government at current levels – a solution that would buy the House and Senate more time to resolve their differences before funding dries up March 4.
“When we say we’re going to cut spending, read my lips: We’re going to cut spending,” Boehner said.
The comment was not well received by Senate Democrats, who have soundly rejected the spending plan proposed by House Republicans and currently up for debate. The bill would reduce spending by more than $61 billion this year by slashing social services, environmental programs, education and funding tied to the new health care law.
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Republican lawmakers Thursday continued making cuts, each further diminishing the measure’s chances of passing through the Senate.
“We’re very disappointed that Speaker Boehner can’t control the votes in his caucus and is going to shut down the government. Now he’s resorting to threats to do just that, without any negotiations. It’s not permissible. We will not stand for that,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said.
Both sides have sought to use the possibility of a government shutdown as leverage in the budget fight. Mindful that a government shutdown in 1995 played poorly for Republicans, Democrats have pre-emptively tried to blame the House for the escalating tensions, saying it has recklessly pursued cuts at the urging of the tea party-aligned members of the GOP.
Republicans accuse Senate leaders of “rooting for a shutdown” instead of working toward a solution that would reduce the deficit.
Neither side has proposed a spending plan that makes a significant dent on the $1.5 trillion deficit this year. Time is running out. Both chambers are out next week, leaving them less than a week to broker a deal.
While the leadership traded punches, House members continued their slow slog through a pile of nearly 600 proposed amendments to the spending bill.
In early votes, the House voted to take another $20 million out of the National Endowment for the Arts and cut the remaining $15 million out of a trust fund for the Presidio in San Francisco.