WASHINGTON Yet another U.S. budget stopgap spending bill was being crafted on Tuesday in the House of Representatives as the Senate bickered over when to vote on two longer-term measures that appeared sure to fail.
The Republican-led House Appropriations Committee was readying a sixth stopgap measure to keep the government running beyond a March 18 deadline, when current funding authority ends, an aide said, adding that details were not yet firm.
This string of temporary spending bills has been necessary because Congress failed to write a budget and pass 12 regular spending bills in time for the start of the 2011 fiscal year that began last October 1.
The House aide said that the next temporary bill, like the last one, would carve out new spending reductions. The last one claims to achieve about $4 billion in savings over two weeks.
Failure to pass a spending bill by March 18 would lead to an immediate shutdown of nonessential federal government services -- everything from passport offices to nuclear research facilities.
Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, whose Democrats hold narrow control of the chamber, accused Republicans of reneging on a deal to hold votes on Tuesday on two competing plans for cutting spending through September 30.
In unusually harsh tones, Reid said on the Senate floor: "The Republicans don't want to vote. They don't want to live up to the agreement that was made" during a budget meeting last week between congressional leaders and Vice President Joe Biden.
Without the deal, the Senate could take much of the rest of the week to vote on the two bills, aides said.
The Republican bill, already passed by the House, would cut about $57 billion in spending for the remainder of this fiscal year from current levels. When coupled with the $4 billion in savings from the current two-week stopgap bill, it would eliminate about $61 billion in government spending in a fiscal year that is forecast to see a record $1.65 trillion deficit.
The proposal is the centerpiece of Republicans' promise to boost the economy by rolling back regulations and slashing government spending.
Democrats, led by Biden, are pushing a much smaller $6.5 billion package of reductions for the rest of the year that the Congressional Budget Office estimates would actually save around $4.7 billion.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell called the Democrats' plan "puny compared to the fiscal problems we face."
In his floor speech, Reid chastised the Republican spending cuts, saying they would gut programs for education, renewable energy and others and throw 700,000 people out of work at a time of high unemployment.
"It seems that Republicans themselves have finally read their own budget over here in the Senate because now they're even running from" it, Reid added.
Without Senate Republicans' consent to hold votes on Tuesday on the two doomed bills, Reid promised to use procedural maneuvers that could lead to initial votes in the early morning hours on Wednesday.
If the Senate defeats both bills, congressional leaders hope that would underscore the need for compromise on spending for the rest of this year between Democrats and Republicans.
(Editing by Philip Barbara)