WASHINGTON (AP) — Despite fresh pressure from tea party conservatives, House Speaker John Boehner said Thursday that Republicans “can’t impose our will” on the White House and Senate Democrats on legislation to cut tens of billions of dollars in federal spending.

At a news conference, Boehner, R-Ohio, denied Democratic suggestions that he has already agreed to jettison nearly half of the $61 billion in cuts passed by the House a month ago.

But as was the case with Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., earlier in the week, he did not say the demand to reduce spending by the full $61 billion was non-negotiable. “Our goal is to cut spending, not shut down the government,” he said.

The government is running on the second of two short-term spending bills, and at the insistence of Republicans, a total of $10 billion has been cut so far.

Without action by Congress, the money will run out on April 9. Lawmakers are seeking a compromise that will extend to the Sept. 30 end of the spending year.

Senior House and Senate aides, experts in the intricacies of spending legislation, met during the day to explore a possible compromise.

Yet officials in both parties said Democrats had not yet provided Republicans with a detailed list of their proposed cuts, an indication that negotiations were not far along.

Democratic officials added that some of their proposed reductions would cut $3 billion or so from the Pentagon budget. The House-passed legislation calls for an increase in defense spending, and reserves spending cuts for domestic programs.

Boehner spoke as tea party activists demonstrated within shouting distance of the Capitol and a pair of potential GOP presidential contenders injected themselves into the first big test for the GOP majority elected last fall.

A few hundred protesters bore signs demanding that the Republican majority they helped vote into office remain true to campaign pledges.

“Remember your promises — WE DO,” read one. “Extreme spending requires extreme cuts,” was another.

They drew encouragement from several Republican lawmakers.

“Stay courageous and I know you will. Don’t back down and I know you won’t,” Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, a potential presidential contender, exhorted on a cold, drizzly day.

“We will stand for cutting the size of government we won’t change our principle,” she said.

Separately, former Speaker Newt Gingrich, another White House hopeful, met behind closed doors with first-term Republicans.

As speaker, Gingrich led the party into twin shutdowns more than a decade ago that wound up damaging the party politically. He has recently written that the confrontation during the Clinton administration paved the way for a balanced budget agreement a few years later. But he leaves out that, as part of the deal, conservative Republicans were forced to create a new government benefit program — health care for millions of lower-income children — that President Bill Clinton demanded.

Boehner was a junior member of the leadership when Gingrich was party leader in the House. Now the leader of a rambunctious majority, his comments marked a public hint of flexibility two days after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid offered one of his own.

On Tuesday, the Nevada Democrat said his side in the talks was willing to consider limitations on government regulators as well as other non-spending items the House seeks. In exchange, Democrats would expect Republicans to scale back on their demands for spending cuts.

He did not identify any, but other officials have said curbs on the Environmental Protection Agency and other government regulators were likely candidates. Another is a proposed ban on the use of government funds to pay for abortions for poor women living in the District of Columbia.

Additionally, Boehner has made a personal priority of a measure the House passed earlier this week to reinstate school vouchers for District of Columbia students. The program is the only one in the country that uses federal tax dollars to subsidize private-school tuition.

While the showdown over spending has dominated Congress in recent days, it is only the first in a series of collisions expected in the coming months as the Republicans push to rein in the size and scope of government.

House Republicans are expected to unveil a budget for the next fiscal year next week that includes deep spending cuts in domestic programs as well as steps to remake Medicare and Medicaid. Officials have said that in private conversations, Republicans have set an informal target of reducing budget deficits to $1 trillion by next year, down from about $1.5 trillion for the current year.

Details unseen, Democrats are already eager to attack it as too harsh. But conservatives in the Republican Study Conference are expected to outline an alternative with even tighter deficit cuts.

The Treasury also has put lawmakers on notice that an increase in the government’s borrowing authority will be needed later this spring. Some conservatives have already announced they will oppose any such measure, while others have laid down conditions that appear unlikely to be met.

Boehner and Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky have said the GOP will demand changes to rein in future spending before the increase can pass.

One priority, unveiled in the Senate with the support of all 47 Republicans, is a constitutional amendment to require a balanced federal budget except in cases of war or national security emergency.

(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

Comments (5)
  1. paab says:

    We cannot sustain the spending pace we are now at. It may be painfull now, but, think of the alternative…nothing? look at the rest of the world trying to to mannage their massive debt. No matter how many protests, when the money is gone it is gone. We desperately need cuts to medicaid now, or there will be no medicare or social security for the elderly later. If you are young and able bodied you are going to have to fend for yourselves. Children are already covered, but illegals and immigrants, and welfare recepients…you need to pay your own way.

  2. Worker bee says:

    What we need is national health insurance at reasonable prices. That will take care of the Medicaid problem without putting thousands upon thousands of people out of medical insurance only to show up at overcrowded hospital emergency rooms–bills to be footed by the hospital. When the money is gone the U.S. Treasury will just keeping printing the bills–just like it is doing now. If you are young and able, you need a JOB (remember those?) to be able to take care of yourself. Same for everyone else. You sound pretty cruel-hearted PAAB.

  3. paab says:

    Naturally Worker Bee anyone who would disagree with you, or expect self reliance from others would be cruel. I think people who enable others to continue to suck up the resources of this country and never contribute are cruel. People will never, ever get ahead on welfare. I know people who during the Clinton administration, were kicked off welfare, have become hightly successful because they became self reliant and used their own smarts and abilities to become productive human beings. You do no one any favors by enabeling them to stay on the dole

    1. Worker bee says:

      You addressed nothing that I wrote about. Where are the jobs? Hard to be self-reliant without one. Hard to be self-reliant on minimum wage–and then you qualify for food stamps. Whoops. Gotta get rid of those because those free-loaders should be able to feed themselves. May your life be ever perfect and you need no help from others, ever. I’ll be glad to hand you a glass of water if you’re drowning….

  4. Matt says:

    I’m sick and tired of the dependency on government in this country, and paab you are 100% correct it’s bad now, but it’s only going to get worse. I have a 6 month old son who is literally getting screwed by the politicians and in my opinion the federal government is the biggest culprit.

    Even the GOP’s proposed $60B cut only represents about 1.7% of the federal spending. That’s like saying if you spend $500 a month on food you are going to cut our $8. It’s a wash in the end.

    The dependance and greed in this country on and from the government is what will ultimately be the downfall if we haven’t already reached it.

    We need a plan that cuts government across the board, including the military. Everyone needs to take a cut in benefits and we need to cut back on regulations that would allow business to succeeded and thrive.

    With that being said the greed will not allow it to have, the GOP not having the backbone to stand up for those who voted them in and the Dem’s being greedy and promising program after program to get re-elected.

    The last chance for freedom on earth is quickly falling apart.

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