* 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 (Reuters) - 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.
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.