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Obama, Lawmakers Expect Straightforward Stopgap

President Barack Obama and congressional leaders said Friday that they expect to advance a straightforward continuing resolution that would set federal spending through the rest of the current fiscal year without addressing the automatic cuts under sequester and other potentially contentious questions.

Obama said he would not veto a stopgap funding bill that complies with the discretionary spending level of $1.043 trillion set in the debt reduction agreement of 2011, signaling there won’t be a showdown between Democrats and Republicans that could lead to a government shutdown.

“If we stick to that deal, then I will be supportive of us sticking to that deal,” Obama said at a White House news conference.

The cuts under sequester, he said, “are additional cuts on top of that, and by law, until Congress takes the sequester away, we’d have to abide by those additional cuts, but there’s no reason why we should have another crisis by shutting the government down in addition to these arbitrary spending cuts,” Obama said.

“If the bill that arrives on my desk is reflective of the commitments that we previously made, then obviously I would sign it,” he added.

Some Democrats had suggested in the weeks leading up to Friday’s implementation of the automatic spending cuts under sequester that the continuing resolution could be the next likely vehicle for rescinding the across-the-board reductions with new directives on spending. And Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, D-Md., chairwoman of the Appropriations Committee, has said she would like to move something closer to an omnibus spending measure, with several new spending bills included in a continuing resolution.

The current six-month plan (PL 112-175) for the budget year expires on March 27, and many government operations would shut down without a replacement measure.

But Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Friday that he doesn’t expect Democrats to try to use the deadline to seriously pressure Republicans into accepting new revenue as part of a package to undo the sequester.

“It seems to me the Democratic majority in the Senate doesn’t have a stomach for a government shutdown, and we expect a continuing resolution to fund the government for the next six months to reflect the spending reductions that are going to be achieved in the sequester,” McConnell said during an interview with WHAS radio station in his home state.

“There’s no thought to shutting down the federal government,” Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon, R-Calif., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said at a news conference Friday in which he decried the impact of the sequester on defense spending. “We’ve got enough problems around here without that.”

The focus of the intense budget battles in Congress appears to have shifted to the fiscal 2014 budget resolutions, with leaders in both parties and both chambers seeking to use these planning documents to set out the stark contrasts between the parties.

The House next week will vote on a fiscal 2013 wrapup package that Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers, R-Ky., will pair with a newly written Defense and Military Construction-Veterans Affairs bill. The measure, expected to be unveiled Monday, will effectively set the budget year’s discretionary spending at about $974 billion. It starts with a top line of $1.043 trillion, but the sequester hits hardest on discretionary spending, with about $71 billion of the $85 billion in cuts slated to come from this account.

While providing no additional funds to the Pentagon or veterans’ programs, the new spending bills would allow them to better manage the effects of the sequester.

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