Top Democrat draws line in sand in budget fight
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Assistant Senate Democratic leader Dick Durbin drew a line in the sand on Sunday in his party's budget battle with Republicans, who are pushing deep spending cuts to trim the federal deficit.
Durbin, one of President Barack Obama's top allies in Congress, said he opposed going beyond the $10.5 billion in domestic, non-defense discretionary spending cuts that Democrats have backed.
Republicans want $61 billion in spending reductions.
"I think we've pushed this to the limit," Durbin told the "Fox News Sunday" television program as Congress and the White House prepared for another week of showdowns that threaten a government shutdown.
"To go any further is to push more kids out of school," Durbin said. "It stops the investment of infrastructure, which kills good-paying jobs right here in the United States.'
"I'm willing to see more deficit reduction, but not out of domestic discretionary spending," Durbin said.
Putting further cuts in non-defense, domestic discretionary spending off limits would force lawmakers to focus instead on areas such as the Pentagon, foreign aid and so-called entitlements, such as the Social Security retirement program.
Representative Jeb Hensarling, a member of the House Republican leadership, said he would be willing to work with Democrats on entitlement reform. But Hensarling said Obama has failed to take the lead.
"Instead, all he presents us is trillions of dollars of more debt," said Hensarling, who appeared with Durbin on "Fox News Sunday."
Following their big gains in last year's congressional elections, Republicans have proposed steep spending cuts to narrow a budget deficit projected to hit a record $1.65 trillion this year -- equaling 10.9 percent of the economy.
Democrats have charged that the Republican cuts are too deep and would threaten the U.S. economic recovery. Republicans have countered by charging that Democratic-budget cutting plans are woefully inadequate.
The Republican-led House passed a bill last month for $61 billion in spending cuts in federal domestic programs for the fiscal year that ends in September.
Votes are expected in the Senate this week on the House-passed bill along with a Democratic alternative. Both appear certain to fail, which would increase pressure for a compromise to avoid a government shutdown before a stopgap funding measure expires on March 18.
While most of the criticism of the House budget bill has come from Democrats, some Republicans have criticized it.
Republican Representative Peter King, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, reiterated his complaint that some of the proposed spending reductions would undermine domestic security.
"We cannot afford these cuts. They are too dangerous," King told CNN's "State of the Union" television program.
White House Chief of Staff William Daley voiced confidence that a bipartisan budget agreement would be reached.
"I'm very optimistic that there won't be a shutdown," Daley told NBC's "Meet the Press" television program.
Appearing on CBS's "Face the Nation," Democratic Senator John Kerry called the House-passed bill "an ideological, extremist, reckless statement."
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell fired back: "What is reckless is the $1.6 trillion deficit we are running this year."
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