WASHINGTON Republicans in the House of Representatives on Friday raced to complete a revised spending-cut plan as Democrats warned that time is running out to reach an agreement that would keep the government running.
The House Appropriations Committee aimed to complete its new plan later in the day to immediately slash $60 billion from the budget for this year, which would satisfy Tea Party-aligned conservatives and enable Republican leaders to bring it up for a vote next week.
But the Democratic-controlled Senate is certain to reject the plan and leaders there warned that there will be little time to reach a compromise before current government funding expires on March 4.
"We are willing to meet the Republicans in the middle on spending, but they keep lurching to the right," Democratic Senator Charles Schumer said on a conference call. "This infighting is causing delays that will take negotiations right up to the deadline and risk a government shutdown."
Lawmakers could agree to extend the temporary funding levels beyond March 4 to allow more negotiations and put off a federal shutdown.
The new House Republican plan nearly doubles the already-deep cuts outlined earlier in the week by the Appropriations Committee, which took a sharp knife to President Barack Obama's priorities such as scientific research and high-speed rail service.
After Tea Party-aligned conservatives objected that their fellow Republicans' plan did not go far enough, appropriators who set spending levels returned to their ledgers to search for further cuts.
Democrats and outside budget experts warn that those cuts could lead to tens of thousands of government layoffs at a time when unemployment stands at 9 percent and the economy is still struggling to recover from the worst recession since the 1930s.
"There's literally no way to get these kinds of savings unless you start firing people," said Stan Collender, a former congressional budget staffer now with Qorvis Communications. "That's not just Washington government, that's every congressional district that has any kind of federal presence."
While Senate Democrats have acknowledged the need for some spending cuts in order to close a budget deficit projected to hit $1.5 trillion this year, their proposals, such as eliminating subsidies for oil companies, are not likely to win Republican support.
Congress is struggling for a plan to fund the federal government for the rest of this fiscal year, which ends on September 30, as Obama is poised to release his budget proposal on Monday for the next fiscal year that starts on October 1.
(Editing by Vicki Allen)