Both sides 'optimistic' about averting US shutdown
Leaders from both sides of the bitterly divided US Congress said Tuesday they were optimistic about a funding bill that would avert a possible government shutdown at the end of the month.
President Barack Obama has been pushing for a deal in recent days by calling several Republican lawmakers, the White House said, as negotiators eye a March 27 deadline for a deal to see the government funded through fiscal year 2013.
Much remains to be done before enough lawmakers sign off on a bill that can pass Congress, but House Speaker John Boehner is due to hold a vote this week on legislation that is expected to form the basis of an agreement.
"Spending is the problem here in Washington and our goal is to cut spending, not to shut the government down," Boehner told reporters.
The top Republican in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, said he had held "very constructive conversations" with his Democratic opposite number Harry Reid about a temporary funding measure, known as a continuing resolution.
"We are optimistic that we will be able to pass a CR both through the House and the Senate at the sequester level, and thereby not have a huge dispute over the continued operation of the government for the rest of the year," he said.
Failure to pass funding legislation could trigger a partial shutdown of the government, a move that would spark concerns about US economic stability.
After bruising battles on last year's "fiscal cliff" and the recent failure to prevent automatic budget cuts McConnell said there was "no interest on either side in having a kind of confrontational government shutdown scenario."
Reid said the Senate would vote on funding legislation next week and, should the bills from the two chambers pass, members from both parties would go to conference to negotiate a compromise.
"I'm cautiously optimistic that we reach a solution before we leave here for the Easter recess," Reid said.
Both sides suggested the deal would reflect the $1.043 trillion budget cap in discretionary spending that was agreed to in the Budget Control Act of 2011.
The Republicans' House bill does not cancel the arbitrary spending cuts, but it takes the sting out of some of them, particularly in the military, by giving the Pentagon the ability to shift cuts to protect critical operations.
Democrats argue that similar flexibility should be given to some other departments, such as education, in order to avoid austerity cuts to key programs, and Reid hinted that he would push for such inclusions.