Washington (CNN) – The top Democratic and Republican leaders in the Senate sounded upbeat Tuesday that a deal will be reached with the GOP-controlled House over a government spending bill before March 27, the day the government runs out of money.
“I’m cautiously optimistic that we’ll reach a deal before we leave here for the Easter recess,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, told reporters after a caucus with other Democratic senators. “So what remains to be seen is whether this move - and apparently away from a crisis - is truly a shift in the strategy from Republicans, or just a short break from extremism that they’ve had over the last few years.”
“There seems to be no interest on either side in having a kind of confrontational government shutdown scenario,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky. “And even though these things sometimes develop at the end, I’m optimistic that we’ll get through this process in a constructive way.”
But the path to passage for the nearly trillion dollar bill, known as a continuing resolution or C.R., has been complicated by $85 billion in automatic spending cuts required by the deficit-reducing sequester. The key sticking points facing negotiators include how to modify the forced spending cuts to dampen their impact on national security, jobs and the economy.
House Republicans will vote on their bill Wednesday. It allows the Pentagon and Department of Veterans Affairs to shift money around and prioritize certain programs. But Democrats say they want to offer some of that same flexibility to key domestic agencies too.
McConnell acknowledged that Democrats will “want to have some imprint” on the measure and that there has already been “a lot of a communication, back-and-forth” with House Republican leaders about how to include Democratic priorities.
“We are now looking at how we can fashion a hybrid that makes sure we meet the national security needs of the nation but also compelling human priorities and the kind of investments we need to make in science and technology for the jobs of the future,” said Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Maryland, the chair of the Appropriations Committee.
Asked about what Mikulski wanted, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers, R-Kentucky, appeared at least to be open to it. “We’ll see what they send over,” he said.
While it remains to be seen if passage of the C.R. will play out as smoothly as Reid and McConnell predicted, no one doubts the two parties will return to their fighting stances soon as they consider broad deficit reduction plans ahead of the debt ceiling debate this summer.