Washington (CNN) – With government funding set to run out in 10 days, and Congress on recess, Republican and Democratic congressional leaders sparred via press release Tuesday, blaming each other for steering the government toward a possible shutdown.
The sharp tone of the releases was in contrast to hopeful signs Sunday and Monday that the two sides were on a path to head off a disruptive shutdown that could affect a wide range of government services.
At issue is whether Democrats and Republicans will agree to a short term spending plan that would keep the government open after March 4th –when the current spending resolution expires–while they negotiate a longer-term bill for the remaining seven months of the fiscal year. Last week, House Republicans passed a longer-term measure that would cut more than $60 billion from a wide range of government programs. Democrats call those cuts too severe and want narrower reductions.
The first press release, emailed to reporters at 10:24am, was from House Majority Leader Eric Cantor.
“While House Republicans are hard at work passing measures to cut spending, grow the economy, and keep the government operating, Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid has yet to offer a plan and instead almost seems as though he’s hoping for a government shutdown to occur for political gain,” Cantor said.
At 12:17pm, Reid shot back.
Republicans “should stop drawling lines in the sand and come to the table to find a responsible path forward,” Reid said in a press release. “It would be the height of irresponsibility to shut down the government without any negotiations, as Republicans are threatening to do.”
For the first time, Reid said he has directed his chief of staff to begin talks with House Speaker John Boehner’s top aide on a longer-term spending bill. In the meantime, Reid said he would bring a bill to the Senate floor next week that would extend for 30 days government operations at existing funding levels – the very thing Republicans say they will not accept.
In a press release sent at 12:42pm, less than 30 minutes after Reid’s, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell weighed in. He called Reid’s proposal “unacceptable.”
“Washington Democrats can’t find a single dime of federal spending to cut, insisting on the status quo, even for a short-term spending bill,” McConnell complained.
At 1:32pm, Boehner issued a press statement saying, if needed, the Republican-controlled House would take up a short-term funding bill that would include at least some additional cuts beyond existing funding levels – they very thing Democrats say they will not accept.
A Boehner aide told CNN it is still unclear how much of a cut House Republicans will propose in the measure, but will likely decide by the end of this week.
Finally, at 3:30 p.m., Reid held a hastily organized conference call with reporters to argue that Republicans “have been very, very strident in saying it will be our way or no way.”
“We’re not asking for the government to be funded for the rest of the year without further cuts,” Reid said. “We’re saying, if we’re going to have our caucus accept further cuts, it has to be a negotiation.”