Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., speaks at a Feb. 3 news conference. He is joined on the podium, from left, by Sens. Robert Casey, D-Pa., and Charles Schumer, D-N.Y. (Thomas Brown / Staff)
As House Republicans forged ahead Thursday with possible spending cuts for this fiscal year, Senate Democrats urged the GOP to renounce the possibility of a government shutdown.
"It's playing with fire," Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said at a lunchtime news conference with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and three other Democrats. They warned of potentially severe consequences for veterans and other recipients of government services if Congress deadlocks over appropriations legislation needed to keep agencies in business past early next month.
Joining them was Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's Analytics, who was an adviser to the 2008 presidential campaign of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. Although the U.S. needs to lay out a path to fiscal sustainability over the next five to seven years, Zandi said it would be imprudent to launch austerity measures this year while the economic recovery is still gaining strength.
Agencies are now operating under a continuing resolution that generally leaves spending at 2010 levels. That stopgap measure expires March 4, and top Republicans have said they want steep spending reductions in return for an extension.
In that vein, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., announced Thursday that he will seek to cap this year's discretionary appropriations at $1.055 trillion, or $32 billion below the latest Congressional Budget Office estimate of what would otherwise be spent under the existing continuing resolution. Republicans have not yet disclosed what programs will be targeted.
That proposed overall cut is far less than the approximately $100 billion that House Republicans pledged to slash during last year's election season. It's also less ambitious than a package of reductions recently unveiled by the Republican Study Committee, a group of conservative GOP lawmakers. Because five months of the fiscal year will have passed by March 5, Congress has less time to achieve savings, Ryan said in a news release.
"This is just a down payment by Republicans to get spending under control," his office added in an accompanying fact sheet.
The brinksmanship is reminiscent of 1995-96, when a standoff between Republicans and the Clinton administration led to two separate shutdowns that cumulatively lasted almost a month.
Leading GOP lawmakers have sent out mixed messages on the party's willingness to travel that route again. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said that a shutdown is not the goal. Last month, however, House Financial Services Committee Chairman Spencer Bachus, R-Ala., was quoted as saying that "we are going to have to be brave this time" if President Obama vetoes Republican spending legislation and tries "to force us to shut government down."