Washington (CNN) – The Senate voted down two competing Democratic and Republican spending bills Wednesday, following a plan designed by congressional leaders and the White House to prove that neither bill has enough support to become law. Already anticipating the failed votes in the Senate, House Republican leaders are drafting another short term spending bill to keep the government running as the House and Senate and White House continue to negotiate spending cuts for the rest of the year.
Congressional leaders hoped the votes Wednesday would show lawmakers in both parties more compromises are required.
First, the Senate voted 56 to 44 against a House Republican bill that would cut $61 billion from current spending levels. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid described the cuts in the bill as "mean spirited" and said they would damage the fragile economic recovery underway.
Despite nervousness among moderate Republicans – especially those up for re-election – that the deep cuts might hurt their constituents, none voted against the House bill. GOP leaders had lobbied wavering Republicans for days, fearing any defections would play to the political advantage of Democrats.
Three conservative Republicans did vote against the House bill believing the cuts should be even deeper.
Next, the Senate voted 58 to 42 against a Democratic proposal that would have cut about $6 billion from current levels.
Eleven Democrats, a surprisingly large number, crossed the aisle to vote with all Republicans to defeat that bill.
Several Democrats facing possibly difficult re-elections – like Claire McCaskill in Missouri, Ben Nelson in Nebraska, Bill Nelson in Florida, Herb Kohl in Wisconsin and Joe Manchin in West Virginia-voted against the bill that was proposed by Senate Democrats and the White House.
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said the Democrats' bill made only "meager spending cuts" and failed to make "tough decisions" about the need to shrink the deficit.
McCaskill said the cuts in the bill were not deep enough.
"It is, frankly, disappointing to me," she said. "I still think there are way too many people in denial around here about the nature of the problem and how serious it is."
Congressional and White House negotiators now have just over week to negotiate a long-term spending bill or agree to a new temporary bill to keep parts of the government from shutting down March 18th.
The House Appropriations Committee is drafting another short term bill, this one lasting 2 – 4 weeks, which would continue to cut spending while keeping federal agencies funded, according to senior House Republican sources. The bill's details are still being worked out, but aides say it would cut about $2 billion per week, similar to the amount cut each week in the current temporary spending resolution.
The cuts would likely come from the same areas Hill leaders used in the last compromise – eliminating earmark money and zeroing out programs that President Obama has already said he plans to cut in his 2012 budget. Other cuts could come from reductions proposed in the House-passed Republican bill. House GOP aides are aiming to release details of the temporary funding measure at the end of the week and vote early next week.
The top four Senate Democratic leaders met with President Obama Wednesday afternoon to try to forge a path forward
Updated 8:10 p.m. - Adds latest on House Republican plans for another short term spending bill to keep government running past March 18.