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Budget stalemate: Minnesota lawmakers say Congress could just limp along and along …

Republicans in the House remain insistent on sweeping spending cuts, like those that would completely defund implementation of the health reform law.
REUTERS/Jim Bourg
Republicans in the House remain insistent on sweeping spending cuts, like those that would completely defund implementation of the health reform law.

WASHINGTON — The House voted overwhelmingly Tuesday afternoon to continue federal spending for another two weeks, with Minnesota’s delegation splitting 5-3 in favor.

However, the White House and lawmakers in the GOP-controlled House and Dem-controlled Senate remain so far apart on a permanent funding solution for fiscal year 2011 — which actually started five months ago on Oct. 1 — that several Minnesotans were bracing for the possibility that there might not be a full FY-2011 budget at all.

Instead, they said, it’s entirely possible that Congress will limp along, two weeks here, one month there, until they pass an FY 2012 budget that needs to be in place sometime between now and seven months from now.

Republicans Chip Cravaack, John Kline and Erik Paulsen voted for the two-week continuing resolution, as did Democrats Collin Peterson and Tim Walz.

“It’s a no-brainer,” Paulsen said, describing this vote as “the first step of some easy steps to reduce spending.” Walz, meanwhile, said there were “hard choices” made in the bill, but he was not “going to hold the American people hostage” and take a vote that could cause a government shutdown.

Senate leaders Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell have said their chamber will quickly take up the CR, where it’s expected to pass easily. President Obama is expected to sign it upon arrival at his desk.

Democrats Keith Ellison and Betty McCollum voted no, as did Republican Michele Bachmann.

Bachmann was one of just six Republicans to oppose the measure, while Democrats split 104-85 in favor.

“I agree with the need to cut spending, but I voted against the two-week CR today because it did not include language to defund ObamaCare,” Bachmann said. “Over the coming years, ObamaCare will hurt our economy so defunding it must remain part of our negotiations on a CR.

“Nearly two weeks ago I voted for the CR [HR 1] because it contained language that would begin to defund ObamaCare. This legislation today did not. The real question to consider: Do President Obama and Harry Reid actually need to keep funding ObamaCare for the next two weeks?”

Ellison, co-chair of the House Progressive Caucus, voted the same way but for a vastly different reason.

“I’m not going to do in small increments what I refuse to do in large ones.” Ellison said. “You keep adding these things up, you keep stringing them along, and you get to what the Republicans want, which is to cut about $60 billion out.”

“And Speaker John Boehner just said if they don’t want the whole loaf, ‘I’m going to give it to them one slice at a time,’ so I’m not going to go along with their strategy,” Ellison said.

Continuing the continuing resolutions ad infinitum?
In fact, that may indeed be the default strategy.

It’s hard to overstate how far apart the major players are on a full budget, and the gulf between Democratic leaders in the Senate and their GOP counterparts in the House is especially large.

HR 1, a full FY 2011 budget which House Republicans passed recently, is basically dead in the Senate. Majority Leader Harry Reid said the proposal was simply “not responsible.” 

Meanwhile, Republicans in the House remain insistent (for a long-term measure) on sweeping spending cuts, like those that would completely defund implementation of the health reform law.

Actually, that’s a pretty good case example of the deadlock. A bill that comes to the House floor without that health care reform defunding provision would almost certainly see it added by amendment, unless GOP leaders blocked amendments, and then it’s uncertain whether a bill without could even have the votes to pass the House. Meanwhile in the Senate, a bill with the provision wouldn’t get close to the votes necessary to pass (51), much less the number needed to end debate on it (60).

“It’s going to be tough,” Peterson said of the hurdle to be cleared in passing a full FY 11 budget. “We could limp along with month-long CRs.”

“I think we’ll be back in two weeks and we’ll probably be negotiating what spending reductions make sense, and that might go for a month,” Paulsen agreed. “I do hear though that the administration and the Senate want a longer-term plan though, which we’d agree with because we passed was for the whole year.”

However, if there were to be additional continuing resolutions, then Republicans say Ellison’s right, that they will continue to demand cuts in spending for additional time.

“I think there are going to be continued reductions in spending until we finish out a bill for the whole fiscal year, until we’re successful in lowering the deficit,” Paulsen said, adding that the current CR agreement was the result of good-faith negotiations that he called “part of the process” and “the right thing to do.”

But is it possible that there will just be CR after CR after CR ad infinitum?

“I don’t know yet,” he said, “because we’re going to have to come up with the fiscal ‘12 budget pretty soon.”

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