WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama will spend much of the coming week in the Middle East, while a politically-divided U.S. Congress works to fund the federal government and avoid yet another threatened shutdown. Federal spending authority expires in just over a week’s time.
In coming days, the U.S. Senate is expected to pass a spending bill for the remainder of the current fiscal year. Total funding will be at reduced levels mandated by automatic budget cuts. Once differences between Senate and House authorizations are reconciled, both chambers will vote on a unified bill to keep the U.S. government funded through September.
But America’s long-term fiscal outlook remains murky. President Obama’s three trips to Capitol Hill last week did little to alter a partisan stand-off on how best to reduce the deficit in future years.
A Democratic budget blueprint combines spending restraint with new tax revenue. Senator Patty Murray said, "This is a jobs and economic growth budget.”
Not so, according to the Senate’s top Republican, Mitch McConnell. “My conference [Republicans] opposes this leftwing manifesto masquerading as a responsible budget," he said.
A Republican budget proposal relies on spending cuts alone to improve America’s fiscal health. Congressman Paul Ryan:
“Our plan lets Washington spend only what it takes in. This is how every family tries to live, in good times and in bad. Your government should do the same," he said.
The Republican budget is a fantasy, according to Democratic Senator Charles Schumer. “The document is filled with deceptive gimmicks, far-fetched assumptions, and phony arithmetic," he said.
Meanwhile, the Senate will soon take up legislation to curb rampant gun violence in the United States. Last week, the Judiciary Committee approved bills to strengthen gun registration and ban military-style assault weapons.
Republican Senator John Cornyn warns of unintended consequences. “We are considering a piece of legislation that jeopardizes the self-defense rights of law-abiding citizens," he said.
Not so, according to Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein. “No one has presented me with any evidence that a person fares better in self-defense with an assault weapon or a large-capacity magazine than with a standard handgun," she said.
Public opinion polls show a boost in support for stricter gun laws since the December mass-shooting at a Connecticut elementary school.