Obama signs stopgap funding bill

March 2, 2011 at 9:33 PM
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WASHINGTON, March 2 (UPI) -- U.S. President Barack Obama signed a stopgap funding measure Wednesday that would keep the federal government operational for two more weeks.

The bill, passed by the Senate hours earlier on a 91-9 vote, would trim $4 billion from the current-year budget. Lawmakers faced a Friday deadline to pass a temporary funding resolution or the government could have shut down.

Obama has called on Republican and Democratic congressional leaders to meet immediately with White House Chief of Staff William Daley and Budget Director Jack Lew to work on a long-term budget agreement before funding authorized Wednesday expires March 18, The Hill reported.

The Washington publication said Wednesday Senate Democratic leaders will turn over to Vice President Joe Biden the main responsibility for negotiating 2011 spending with Republicans. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., vice chairman of the Senate Democratic Conference, said Republicans should accept the administration's invitation if they "are serious about negotiating a responsible compromise."

During Wednesday's Senate debate, Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, chairman of the Senate Democratic Steering and Outreach Committee, said he would support the stopgap bill "reluctantly."

"I think this kind of budgeting is the worst kind you can do," Begich said. "When you think about it, no household does it this way, no business does it this way, no state government does it this way."

The House voted 335-91 Tuesday to approve the two-week continuing resolution.

Obama said he was pleased congressional Democrats and Republicans agreed on a plan that would cut spending and keep government running for the next two weeks.

"But we cannot keep doing business this way," Obama said in a statement. "Living with the threat of a shutdown every few weeks is not responsible, and it puts our economic progress in jeopardy."

The Hill reported Sens. Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee, both R-Utah; Rand Paul, R-Ky.; Jim Risch and Mike Crapo, both R-Idaho; Patti Murray, D-Wash.; Tom Harkin, D-Iowa; Carl Levin, D-Mich.; and Bernie Sanders, Ind-Vt., voted against the bill.

The proposal would eliminate $2.7 billion in programs House Republicans designated as earmarks, although some Senate Democrats disagree with using the "earmark" label for some of the cuts, such as a $40 million reduction in Labor Department salaries and expenses.

The agreement on the two-week plan buys Congress time to work on a bill that would fund the government through the current fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30.

"The clock is already ticking toward March 18," Schumer said. "We call on House Republicans to sit down at the negotiating table right away. Time's a'wasting."

"We know that the final outcome will lie somewhere in between" the spending level proposed by Senate Democrats and the $61 billion in cuts over seven months favored by House Republicans, Schumer said.

Senate Democrats proposed freezing non-security discretionary spending, which would set spending levels $41 billion lower than Obama's budget request for 2011.

Obama said the goal of the meeting between White House officials and congressional leaders is to find "common ground on a budget that makes sure we are living within our means. This agreement should cut spending and reduce deficits without damaging economic growth or gutting investments in education, research and development that will create jobs and secure our future."

He said the agreement also should be bipartisan, "free of any party's social or political agenda, and it should be reached without delay."

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