WASHINGTON— The Republican-controlled House was poised Tuesday to pass legislation cutting federal spending by $4 billion and averting a government shutdown for two weeks.
Yielding to the inevitable, Senate Democrats said they would go along — just hours after the White House floated a trial balloon for a measure to provide more time for talks on a longer-term bill to keep the government going the rest of the budget year.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told reporters he expected the two-week bill to go to President Barack Obama for his signature within 48 hours.
"We'll pass this and then look at funding the government on a long-term basis," Reid said.
Passage of the measure will set a two-week time frame for negotiations on a bill to keep the government running through the Sept. 30 end of the fiscal year. The White House and leaders of both parties in both houses will be involved in the talks.
Earlier Tuesday, the White House pressed for $8 billion in immediate spending cuts as part of a four- or five-week stopgap measure to avoid a partial shutdown of the government and provide more time for talks on a longer-term bill.
"We do believe that if $4 billion in cuts over two weeks is acceptable, that the $8 billion over four or five weeks is something that we could agree on," said presidential Press Secretary Jay Carney.
The White House trial balloon was popped even before it was floated.
"If there had been a conversation about this 10 days ago or two days ago, we might have had something to talk about." Republican House Speaker John Boehner said earlier. "But the fact is we were forced to move on our own."
House Republicans brought up their measure to keep the government running for two weeks to buy time for the Republican House, the Democratic Senate and the Obama White House to try to reach agreement on legislation for the rest of the budget year. It's a relatively mild volley in a party-defined spending battle that promises to go on for months or years.
Republicans want to slash more than $60 billion from agency budgets over the coming months as a down payment on larger reductions later in the year, but are settling for just $4 billion in especially easy cuts as the price for the two-week stopgap bill.
The $4 billion would hit some programs that Obama has sought to terminate and others that have billions of dollars set aside for pet projects sought by lawmakers. That money's not needed since Republicans have banned earmarks for at least two years.
"These cuts reflect this Republican Majority's continued commitment to significantly reduce spending, rein in the nation's exploding deficits and debt, and to help our economy continue on the road to recovery," said House Appropriations Committee Chairman Harold Rogers, R-Ky.
Negotiations over a longer-term solution are likely to be very difficult as Boehner seeks to satisfy his 87-member freshman class — many of whom were elected with tea party support — but still manage to reach a deal with Democrats controlling the Senate and the White House.
"All of us know that cutting spending of Washington, D.C., never happens. And so to think that we're going to have significant cuts in spending levels — it's not going to be easy," Boehner told reporters. "I understand that. Senator Reid understands that. But I think all of us know that we are going to cut spending."