Dems, GOP weigh stopgap plan to forestall government shutdown 

Republicans and Democrats appeared ready to strike a deal on a spending plan that will forestall a government shutdown until March 18, but both parties remain deeply divided on a plan to pay for the remaining months of the fiscal year.

Democrats say they are "encouraged" by a new spending plan offered by Republicans that would extend federal funding for two weeks while the two sides negotiate a budget plan to pay for government spending until the fiscal year ends on Sept. 30. The GOP plan would cut $4 billion in spending.

The deal to avert a shutdown comes as Congress prepares to return to session on Monday with just four days until a stopgap government spending measure expires on March 4.

The two parties had been fighting for weeks over federal spending with the threat of a shutdown looming over them. Earlier this month, House Republicans pushed through a measure that would slash $61.5 billion from the remaining seven months of the fiscal year. The cuts were spread across dozens of agencies and programs and targeted many top Democratic initiatives, such as President Obama's high speed rail project.

Senate Democrats, who have the majority, refused to take up the bill and Obama threatened to veto it.

On Friday, Republicans put forward their new plan, which appeared to be more attractive to Democrats.

The $4 billion cut is proportional to the reductions in the GOP's bigger spending bill, but far less painful because the reductions come from removing earmarks and cutting from programs President Obama had already targeted for elimination in his 2012 budget proposal.

"There is really no reason for Senate Democrats to walk away from this," Rep. Pete Roskam, R-Ill., the House Chief Deputy Whip, said.

Democrats would not fully commit to supporting the compromise measure, but they hinted a deal is imminent and tried to take a little credit for themselves.

"The plan Republicans are floating today sounds like a modified version of what Democrats were talking about," said Jon Summers, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. " We're glad they think it's a good idea, but we should keep our focus on what we need to do to cut spending and keep our economy growing in the long-term. We hope this is a sign that they have abandoned it and will work with Democrats moving forward."

With a potential shutdown looming in just a matter of days, both parties are fearing the political fallout, which makes compromise far more likely.

The last budget-related government closures occurred in 1995 and 1996, and the public blamed the Republican-led Congress for refusing to compromise on a spending bill with Democratic President Bill Clinton.

The current standoff is politically dangerous territory for both parties, however. Republican strategists say the GOP has far less to lose this time around because the mood of the public has shifted toward a desire to cut spending and reduce the deficit.

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Susan Ferrechio

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