Reid warns of possible shutdown

WASHINGTON -- Sen. Harry Reid on Friday warned that Republicans are flirting with a government shutdown by failing to advance "responsible" budget cuts for the year.

Facing a March 4 deadline, a bill to set spending for the rest of the 2011 budget year snagged this week in the U.S. House, with new Republican leaders searching for a promised $100 billion in cuts.

From across the U.S. Capitol, Reid, the Senate majority leader, and other Democrats continued to portray themselves as sensible budget cutters while they charged Republicans are in disarray, and perhaps willing to risk a shutdown that Reid said "would be devastating to our economy and send us back into a recession."

"We need to work together to find a way to reduce spending that doesn't hurt our economy and threaten public safety," Reid said in a conference call with reporters. "Unfortunately, measures the Republicans are putting on the table simply don't take that into consideration."

Democrats criticized selected items from a list of GOP-targeted cuts, including grants for community policing and student financial aid. For their part, Democrats have said any cuts should include taking away $20 billion in tax breaks for oil companies.

Reid said other plans to limit spending also should be put on the table including President Barack Obama's proposal to partially freeze most domestic spending for five years.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., said the House would devote most of next week's floor time to debating a bill that will propose $100 billion in spending reductions through the fiscal year that ends on Sept. 30. An initial bill was rejected by members of the sizable freshman class for not cutting deep enough. Following an emergency meeting late Thursday, GOP lawmakers.

Late Friday, House Republicans proposed cutting hundreds of programs across the face of government in a $61 billion package of spending cuts toughened at the last minute at the demand of tea party-backed lawmakers.

Congress failed last year to finish its budget work, and funded the government through a stopgap spending bill that expires on March 4. Federal departments would run out of money unless a new spending plan is in place or Congress agrees to extend the old one until a final deal can be reached.

Reid said Democrats would agree to a series of short-term spending bills to avoid a government shutdown while negotiations continue on a final spending plan for the year. Following House votes next week, the Senate will take up the matter.

"We are going to do everything we can to avoid a government shutdown," Reid said. "We cannot afford an extreme step now...when we are just beginning to recover."

Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at or 202-783-1760.