The fight to cut government spending is entering a new phase as the Senate yesterday rejected two pieces of legislation to fund the government though a long-term continuing resolution (CR) for the remainder of the fiscal year. The Senate seems incapable of negotiating with the House, because they can’t even get a simple majority vote to pass the House Republicans’ or the Senate Democrats’ CR spending proposal. This vote does not bode well for a resolution of the stalemate on funding the federal government’s discretionary functions for the remainder of this fiscal year.

H.R. 1 funds the federal government for the remainder of Fiscal Year 2011 and contains $61 billion in cuts from FY 2010 levels of spending. H.R. 1 passed the House on a 235–189 vote last month, yet it failed in the Senate by a 44–56 vote. The vote was party line, with the exceptions of Senators Jim DeMint (R-SC), Rand Paul (R-KY) and Mike Lee (R-UT), all members of the Senate Tea Party Caucus, who said they voted against the measure because it did not cut deep enough. Senator Lee said after the vote:

The fight over cutting $10 billion or $60 billion is not a serious discussion about how to fix what’s broken. It does not begin to address our massive $1.65 trillion deficit, and completely ignores any long-term structural restraints necessary to impede Congress’s insatiable appetite to spend. If you think of our annual deficit as a football field, the Democrat proposal moves the ball just over half a yard toward the goal line. The Republican proposal moves it just three and a half yards. That is not a winning strategy for the country.

Earlier the Senate had voted on an amendment to H.R 1 by Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-HI) that would cut spending by just over $10 billion. That vote failed 42–58 with 11 Democrats joining Republicans in opposition to the measure. This shows a great weakness on the part of Senate Democrats, because they lost 11 members of the Senate Democrat Caucus on the Inouye amendment.

The defeat of the Inouye amendment was a defeat for the Obama Administration. They had submitted a “Statement of Administration Policy” that endorsed the Inouye substitute amendment:

The Administration strongly supports Senate passage of the Inouye substitute amendment 149, which responds to the Administration’s call to meet the House half-way in achieving the $102 billion in reductions that advocates for H.R. 1 have proposed. The amendment is a fair compromise and, unlike H.R. 1, does not undermine the Nation’s economic recovery and long-term growth.

The Obama Administration is claiming that the House proposal cuts $102 billion from Obama’s requested numbers for this fiscal year. Using this method of calculating cuts, the Democrat cuts added up to $51 billion. Real cuts, however, relate to the actual Fiscal Year 2010 levels, not the requested amounts.

By losing 11 votes of the Democrat Caucus in the Senate, this Administration has suffered a stunning defeat. Clearly, the President has to show leadership on this issue to help get the Senate Democrats to agree to cuts.

If the President and Senate Democrats can’t come to a consensus on a number, the federal government may miss the March 18 deadline to pass the long-term continuing resolution, and parts of the federal government may shut down. In the meantime, the House may pass another short-term continuing resolution to give Democrats more time to formulate a position on the long-term CR and gain a majority of support in the Senate. Whether you are for or against the idea of a government shutdown, it is important to note that conservatives in Congress have done their job to stake out an easy-to-understand position.

Part of the problem is that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) refuses to allow the Senate to have a full and fair debate on H.R. 1. As I wrote in an earlier blog post, the House has allowed a full and fair debate, yet the Senate has not:

The House ended up with the $61 billion total after a week-long open debate with hundreds of amendments filed and a virtually unlimited amendment process. The House ended a five-day debate with over 40 hours of debate, over 500 amendments filed, over 150 amendments offered and over 100 recorded votes. This is extraordinary for the House, and Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) should be applauded for this relatively open process to consider a controversial appropriations measure.

The Senate has had a short debate and only two votes. Neither vote received a majority of support. Senate Majority Leader Reid may be guilty of procedural malpractice if he does not roll H.R. 1 out on the Senate floor to allow amendments, debate and numerous votes. This would allow the Senate to attempt to work out a position on the issue. Then the Senate and House could convene a conference committee to work out differences between the two chambers.

Between Reid’s obstruction and President Obama’s lack of leadership, it seems that Congress is on track for a government shutdown. It is going to be hard to pin this shutdown on conservatives in Congress, who have been consistent in calling for deep cuts to the federal budget. The liberal position on the CR is unclear and undefined. No negotiations can happen and no bill will pass until a majority of Senators can come together to pass either H.R. 1 or a compromise proposal.