As Congress girds for another budget battle this week, U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin said Democrats have put themselves in “a horrible position” to stave off the spending cuts proposed by Republican lawmakers.
“I think we’re in a horrible position to negotiate, and I’ve told the president of the United States that,” Cardin said Friday in an interview with The Daily Record editors and reporters.
The first-term senator said he expects the Republican-dominated House of Representatives to offer a resolution this week that would continue funding the federal government for three more weeks, and cut $6 billion in spending.
Those cuts are expected to be relatively non-controversial and include tapping accounts that would have been used for lawmakers’ home state earmarks that were already banned. Other cuts are likely to be programs already targeted by President Barack Obama for big cuts or outright termination.
The federal government faces the threat of a shutdown Friday if lawmakers and Obama do not reach an agreement.
“The pressure is going to be pretty immense,” Cardin said. The GOP will offer cuts, many of which have already been proposed by Democrats, and “dare us not to take them.”
Federal agencies are now running on funding included in a two-week stopgap bill passed March 1, a measure passed to give Democrats and Republicans more time to negotiate long-term strategies to rein in government spending. That measure cut about $4 billion.
Cardin said Democrats should have acted more forcefully last year, when they controlled both chambers of Congress and the White House. The Republican wave in the November elections swept out the Democrats’ majority in the House and cut into their margin in the Senate.
“We got ourselves trapped,” Cardin said.
During the election season, Republicans called for $100 billion in cuts to discretionary domestic spending, which makes up about 12 percent of the budget.
Talks on closing a gap of about $50 billion between the two sides — led by Vice President Joe Biden — haven’t progressed very far, in part because Biden was on a diplomatic mission in Europe last week. But leaders on both sides also spent much of the week sniping at each other in a daily volley of press releases and news events.
The only visible action has been a pair of votes in the Senate on the House-passed GOP plan and a Democratic alternative. Both measures fell well short of a majority, much less the 60 votes that were required under Senate procedures.
But Democrats said the legislative two-step actually represented progress since it proved to House Republicans that their bill can’t pass the Senate and that tea party-backed freshmen need to show flexibility.
At issue is legislation to fund the day-to-day operating budgets of every federal agency and provide a $158 billion infusion for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Both bills officially total about $1.2 trillion, though roughly half of that has already been spent as the government has operated at last year’s spending levels for almost half of the budget year that began Oct. 1.
Cardin said the long-term solution to the nation’s fiscal issues must not simply slash spending on domestic programs like Pell Grants and the Head Start program.
“I don’t see how you do it responsibly without bringing in revenues,” he said, adding that that can be achieved by eliminating unnecessary subsidies and cleaning up the tax code.
“To me, it’s a lot easier to get $6 billion that way than to tell children on Head Start, ‘Goodbye,’” Cardin said. “That’s where we’re heading. We’re literally telling the states forget any money for your water infrastructure. The list goes on and on.”
He said Congress needs to settle on a solution soon, to give the federal agencies and those that depend on them a measure of certainty.
“How do you plan your national defense when you’re operating on continuing resolutions?” Cardin said.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.
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