Tulsa World: State’s delegation favors stopgap funding proposal

Feb 27, 2011
In The News

WASHINGTON – As congressional leaders first inched toward a potential shutdown of the government and then back toward compromise, members of Oklahoma’s delegation who had linked efforts to keep the government open to spending cuts endorsed a stopgap proposal Saturday.

Rep. John Sullivan, a Tulsa Republican, said the proposal to keep the government running for two more weeks showed House Republicans’ commitment to regaining fiscal sanity.

"It cuts $4 billion in spending over the next two weeks while we continue negotiations on long-term spending levels,” Sullivan said.

Rep. Tom Cole, a GOP member of the House Appropriations Committee, which offered the proposal Friday, said he agreed with his leadership’s approach.

"It shows a real effort to avoid a shutdown and find common ground with the Democrats,” Cole said.

Sullivan, Cole and Rep. James Lankford, a freshman Republican, made it clear earlier that their support of efforts to avoid a shutdown and keep the federal government functioning after Friday hinged on spending cuts.

Sullivan described even a short-term agreement to keep the government open as a "non-starter” unless it contained "significant spending cuts.”

Senate Democrats had rejected such demands, hoping to keep negotiations on spending cuts focused on an agreement for the rest of this fiscal year, which ends June 30.

The result was a political version of the game chicken.

If neither side swerves, current funding
for the federal government will end Friday.

The House committee’s proposal appears to be a game-changer, triggering what sounded like welcoming comments from Senate Democrats.

The committee said the stopgap measure would enable the government to continue operating at its current spending, a goal of Senate Democrats, until March 18 – except for several specific programs targeted for termination or cuts.

Eliminating those programs would cut spending by $4 billion, which tracks with House Republicans’ goals.

The House Republicans said those cuts would eliminate earmark slush funds and kill programs already targeted by President Barack Obama and a House measure passed earlier.

Before the House committee offered its proposal, Sens. Jim Inhofe and Tom Coburn and Rep. Frank Lucas, all Republicans, also expressed support for spending cuts but stopped short of linking them to their vote for a short-term funding agreement to keep the government open.

All three were in Congress in the mid-1990s when a similar impasse shut down the government.

Veterans of that era sound eager to avoid repeating it.

Still, Inhofe accused Democrats of playing a political game with a serious problem.

"We have a problem with spending too much and piling up too much debt,” he said, charging that Democrats still refuse to take steps toward getting the national debt under control.

"While no one wants a government shutdown, I also don’t think the American people find it credible that Democrats can’t find a single dollar of savings in their $3.8 trillion budget,” he said.

Rep. Dan Boren, the only Democrat in Oklahoma’s seven-member congressional delegation, also expressed support for spending cuts.

"I would lean in favor of it,” he said of the stopgap proposal. "I think that it provides cuts that can get bipartisan support.”

Boren was the only member of the state’s House delegation to vote against a recent proposal that included historic spending cuts along with funding to run the government for the rest of this fiscal year.

"I believe we could have cut more spending by cutting across the board so that everyone could have shared in the sacrifice,” he said.

Passage of the two-week measure, which is expected to be on the House floor as early as Tuesday, may be viewed as a compromise, but that mood may be short-lived.

Negotiations over funding for the rest of the fiscal year could revive the standoff.

House Republican leaders still want Senate Democrats to consider their chamber’s measure that would cut spending by at least $61 billion.

Senate Democrats have rejected that as an irresponsible job-killing approach to funding the government.

They insist that their chamber remains open to spending cuts but emphasize that Congress must continue with investments in areas such as education.

Cole said Senate Democrats must get serious about reducing the deficit. "So far their proposals have been laughable,” he said.

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