By Gregory Korte, - USA TODAY
WASHINGTON — President Obama entered negotiations over a spending bill Tuesday as Congress was poised to extend the deadline to avert a government shutdown by two weeks.
The House of Representatives passed 335-91 a stopgap spending bill to keep the government running through March 18, with $4 billion in spending cuts.
Most Democrats voted for the measure, despite a no vote from Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said the Senate will pass the resolution today, allowing Obama to sign it before government spending authority expires Friday.
The Senate unanimously passed a bill Tuesday that would prevent members of Congress and the president from getting paid during a shutdown.
With two more weeks to work out a deal, Obama got involved in talks between the Republican-led House and Democrat-led Senate over the House's spending plan, which would cut about $61 billion through Sept. 30.
The president spoke to House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, by phone Tuesday. It was "a 10- or 12-minute call, a good call," said White House spokesman Jay Carney. He would not divulge details.
Reid said talks were encouraging.
"The president's going to take this to the American people because the only message that we have from the Republicans is to wipe out programs that are so important to people, especially people who can't help themselves, the middle class and other programs," Reid said. "I'm hopeful that we can work something out with the Republicans to get this done."
What White House and the Senate leaders want to avoid is a series of two-week extensions, which Carney called "a tollbooth where we are negotiating again and again on continuing resolutions to fund the government for two weeks."
Boehner said that might have been possible. "If there had been a conversation about this 10 days ago or two days ago, we might have had something to talk about, but the fact is we were forced to move on our own."
The measure passed by the House on Tuesday would cut $4 billion from current spending, mostly from highway aid, education and accounts often used for congressional "earmarks."
"While I would have greatly preferred that the Senate act on the hard-fought and thoughtfully crafted funding legislation that the House passed almost two weeks ago — which saves the taxpayers $100 billion compared to the president's request — it is clear that more time is needed," said House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers, R-Ky.
Democrats still object to that longer-term GOP plan, which would cut $61 billion through Sept. 30. Obama has threatened a veto. Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va., said the GOP bill "has more poison pills in it than Rasputin's medicine cabinet."
Among proposed cuts: elimination of funding for Planned Parenthood, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the AmeriCorps service program.