* Extension would avoid US gov't shutdown threat until April
* House conservatives likely to accept 6-month extension
* Potential dispute with Democrats over funding level
By David Lawder and Richard Cowan
WASHINGTON, July 26 Republican leaders in the
U.S. House of Representatives are moving towards seeking a
six-month extension of government funding that would avoid the
threat of shutdowns until the spring of 2013, Republican
lawmakers and aides said on Thursday.
Lawmakers have little stomach for an election-year repeat of
last year's bruising budget battles, which brought the federal
government to the brink of shutdown several times and further
damaged Congress' approval ratings.
But in order to buy budget peace, Republicans are expected
to agree to give up most, if not all, of the $19 billion in
additional discretionary spending cuts they sought this year.
Aides said that as early as next week, House Speaker John
Boehner could announce plans for a continuing resolution that
would extend funding for government agencies, the military and
for discretionary programs. Congress would need to pass a
stop-gap measure before fiscal year ends on Sept. 30.
Still unclear was whether the annual funding would be
extended at the current level of $1.043 trillion, or the
slightly higher $1.047 trillion level specified in last summer's
debt limit deal and insisted upon by Democrats. Traditionally,
continuing resolutions have kept the previous spending levels.
A funding extension into next year would not only eliminate
a shutdown controversy just weeks before November's elections,
but also push spending decisions past what promises to be an
extremely busy post-election "lame-duck" session.
Before year-end, Congress must deal with expiring tax cuts,
automatic spending cuts due in January, a debt limit increase
and other fiscal deadlines.
"I think it makes sense to at least have that as an
insurance policy to avoid shenanigans of anyone trying to shut
down the government," Representative Greg Walden, a member of
House Republican leadership, told reporters.
Republicans and Democrats are negotiating over the extension
because Congress' normal process for approving spending
legislation has broken down over funding-level disagreements.
While the House has been passing such appropriations bills
for fiscal 2013 written to a reduced $1.028 trillion limit, the
Senate has passed none because Democrats want to stick to the
$1.047 trillion level specified in the Budget Control Act.
AVOIDING A FIGHT
Some House Republicans, particularly those on the
Appropriations Committee, have said they preferred a shorter
extension that would allow them to complete their legislation
during the lame-duck session.
Boehner would not publicly reveal his plans for the
continuing resolution, telling reporters that "we're considering
lots of things when it comes to the CR."
But avoiding a shutdown fight was at the top of his list.
"We're going to come to an agreement on a vote with our
colleagues in the Senate to try to make sure that the government
is funded and there are no opportunities for games to be
played," Boehner said.
Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid confirmed high-level
House-Senate negotiations on an extension and said he wanted the
issue off the table during the year-end rush. Reid suggested
that a temporary funding bill could be taken care of in
September, following an August vacation.
"It would be to my preference that we do something that
would alleviate this being an issue that we have during the lame
duck," Reid told reporters.
Fiscally conservative Republicans in the House have been
pushing for the longer, six-month extension because they worry
that defeated, "unaccountable" lawmakers -- and potentially a
defeated President Barack Obama -- will enact higher spending
levels in the lame duck session.
Boehner has had difficulty resisting the demands of this
influential group, which includes many lawmakers backed by the
Tea Party movement.
As House and Senate leaders haggled over the stop-gap,
Republican Senator Rob Portman, a potential vice presidential
candidate, this week unveiled a more permanent solution -- a
bill that would create an automatic 120-day spending extension
if the normal appropriations bills were not passed by the Oct. 1
start of the fiscal year.
If that four-month grace period expired without action, the
measure specifies that the spending level would decline 1
percent every 90 days.