Joe Biden, Jack Lew, Bill Daley
J. Scott Applewhite  /  AP
Vice President Joe Biden, right, followed by Budget Director Jack Lew and White House Chief of Staff William Daley, arrives on Capitol Hill in Washington on Thursday to discuss the federal budget.
updated 3/4/2011 11:45:20 AM ET 2011-03-04T16:45:20

The Senate's top Republican on Friday blasted the Obama administration's opening move to cut domestic spending and pass a long-overdue plan for the ongoing budget year, calling a White House bid to cut $6.5 billion "one more proposal to maintain the status quo."

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., a participant in Thursday's talks with Vice President Joe Biden and top congressional leaders, said the Democratic plan is "unserious" and "unacceptable." It falls far short of a House-passed GOP plan to slash domestic agencies by 12 percent or more on average.

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"The White House's proposal ... is to cut another $6 billion and call it a day," McConnell said

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In opening talks Thursday Biden offered Republicans a package of mostly recycled budget cuts totaling $6.5 billion in response to House legislation slashing domestic agency budgets back to levels in place before President Barack Obama took office.

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The White House cuts fell well short of what resurgent Republicans are demanding but were seen by Democrats as an attempt to meet Republicans in the middle.

"Democrats stand ready to meet the Republicans halfway on this," House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said. "That would be fair."

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, was set to release a detailed proposal based on the White House offer in expectation of test votes in the chamber next week designed to gauge support and demonstrate to House Republicans that their plan can't make it through the Senate.

Inouye's bill would cut spending $7 billion below a hard "freeze" at 2010 levels — and that's before domestic programs get cut further to pay for budget increases eagerly sought by the Pentagon.

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The Senate plan would still fall more than $50 billion short of the cuts demanded by Republicans.

Video: Poll: Majority oppose stripping bargaining rights (on this page)

Dizzying numbers game
The combatants are involved in a dizzying numbers game that not all of them seem able to explain clearly. Republicans say they've cut $100 billion from Obama's budget requests for the ongoing fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30, but when Democrats use the same measuring stick to claim more than $40 billion — based on their agreement to freeze spending right away — GOP aides dismiss the moves as embracing the status quo.

Democrats, for their part, claim as their own $4 billion in savings from a GOP-drafted stopgap spending bill signed by Obama on Wednesday. And the additional cuts proposed on Thursday carve little new ground.

In fact, the administration's latest $6.5 billion spending cut proposal contains lots of easy targets, like cutting accounts lawmakers have heavily "earmarked" with back-home projects like clean water funding, eliminating $500 million in grants to state and local police departments and $425 million in Federal Emergency Management Agency money for state and local governments for homeland security and disaster preparedness.

The White House list also would cut $280 million for a new rail tunnel under the Hudson River that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has canceled, $275 million cut from a program subsidizing community service jobs for low-income senior citizens and $500 million in rescissions of unneeded money from a program providing food aid to low-income pregnant women and children under the age of 5.

Republicans were mum after Thursday's meeting, deferring to Biden.

John Boehner, Mitch McConnell
Alex Brandon  /  AP
House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, right, accompanied by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., gestures during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington on Wednesday.

"We had a good meeting, and the conversation will continue," the vice president said. Notably, his statement omitted catchphrases that might have described the session as "productive" or "making progress."

'Little more than the status quo'
House Speaker John Boehner's spokesman, Brendan Buck, said before the meeting that cuts of the magnitude suggested by the White House were "little more than the status quo."

The talks, in Biden's private office just off the Senate floor, marked the beginning of an attempt by the White House and top lawmakers to agree on legislation to cut spending and avert a partial government shutdown when current funding authority expires on March 18.

Republicans, their ranks swelled by 87 freshmen, passed legislation in the House calling for $61 billion in cuts, coupled with prohibitions on federal regulations proposed to take effect on several industries, along with a prohibition on giving taxpayer money to Planned Parenthood, which provides contraception and health care to millions of women and girls.

Money for food inspection, college aid, grants to local schools and police and fire departments, clean water projects, job training and housing subsidies also would be reduced.

The White House has threatened to veto the GOP measure, and Democrats have attacked it as reckless.

In addition to Boehner and Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., attended the talks, as did Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Poll: Majority oppose stripping bargaining rights

  1. Closed captioning of: Poll: Majority oppose stripping bargaining rights

    >>> we have the results of a new nbc news/" wall street journal " poll and we got information about how americans feel about the fight in wisconsin and other states over collective bargaining rights for public employees. our chief white house correspondent and political director chuck todd with us from washington. chuck, good evening.

    >> good evening, brian. perhaps the most surprising number was how many people were paying attention to this showdown in madison. 73% said they're following the story very closely so we asked them, public government workers, should they have the same collective bargaining rights as private employees? 77% said yes, they should. that said, these same folks said 68% of them said government workers should have to contribute more to their own retirement. 63% said they should contribute more to their own health care and 58% agree for a one-year salary freeze for all government workers. president obama signed what's called a continuing resolution to fund the government for another two weeks avoiding a government shutdown and there is still a big battle to figure out how to tackle the deficit. we tested 26 different proposals and we found out one of the most acceptable and unacceptable. three more acceptable proposals, a tax on millionaires. eliminating earmarks by members of congress and getting rid of tax subsidies to oil and gas companies and the three most unacceptable ideas, cutting any funding for medicare, cutting any benefits out of social security and cutting any funding out of k through 12 education, and of course, the other big story in the last month has been the uprising in the middle east , and as you can see here, president obama gets fairly high marks for his handling of egypt. 55% approve of what he's doing there. on libya right now, there is a lot more undecided. . 48% approve of how he's handling libya at this point, but there seems to be a lot of folks with a wait-and-see attitude trying to see what does all of this mean? a lot of folks paying close attention. fascinating new numbers. chuck todd in washington, thanks.

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