The session also marks a new degree of involvement by the White House, which had let the debate over spending play out in Congress with little intervention. The hands off approach frustrated some Democrats who insisted this week that Obama needed to become more engaged.
Republicans who control the House muscled through a bill last month that could cut spending over the next seven months by more than $60 billion from last year's levels — and $100 billion from Obama's budget request. It would also block implementation of Obama's health care law and a host of environmental regulations.
The GOP House measure blended dramatic cuts from almost every domestic agency. It also would block taxpayer money from going to public broadcasting and Planned Parenthood family planning efforts. Money for food inspection, college aid, grants to local schools and police and fire departments, clean water projects, job training and housing subsidies would be reduced.
The White House is supporting $10.5 billion in cuts relative to last year's budget. The White House and Capitol Hill Democrats argue that those aren't the only cuts they support, because they also have agreed to reduce Obama's budget request by more than $40 billion. Republicans seized control of the House last year after promising to cut $100 billion from Obama's request, a figure that's inflated because Obama's budget went nowhere in Congress.
But Democrats are seizing the standard used by Republicans last fall because it similarly inflates their claims about how much has been cut as the government runs on stopgap spending bills frozen at 2010 spending rates.
"Democrats stand ready to meet the Republicans halfway on this," said Pelosi, D-Calif. "That would be fair. We have, I repeat, have cut $41 billion from President Obama's budget already. ... So we've already gone down that path."
That figure, however, does not include any of the $60 billion in real cuts that the Republican-controlled House passed last month.
"It seems that Harry Reid and the vice president have come forward with approximately $40 billion in cuts," said Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., speaking before Biden brought his proposal to the table. "That's the status quo."
Conceding there are different views of what constitutes a spending cut, White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer said: "While there may be some disputes in math, we remain optimistic we can get this done."
On the GOP side, the spending cut goal is based entirely on meeting the campaign promise. Boehner had earlier tried to sell a plan that would spread the cuts over a complete calendar year rather than cram them into the final few months of this fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30. When he reversed course, the cuts relative to the 2010 budget leaped from $35 billion to $61 billion and included cuts in Head Start, special education and Pell Grants for low-income college students.
"You can't just pick a figure out of the air and just slash," said Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La.
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