Republicans are planning for a vote next week on a bill to fund the day-to-day operations of the government through the Sept. 30 end of the 2013 fiscal year, while keeping in place the $85 billion in automatic cuts.
The need to keep the government's doors open and lights on - or else suffer the first government shutdown since 1996 - requires the GOP-dominated House and the Democratic-controlled Senate to agree. Right now they hardly see eye to eye.
The House GOP plan, unveiled to the rank and file Wednesday, would award the Pentagon and the Veterans Affairs Department with their line-by-line budgets, for a more-targeted rather than indiscriminate batch of military cuts.
But it would deny domestic agencies the same treatment, which has whipped up opposition from veteran Democratic senators on the Appropriations Committee. Domestic agencies would see their budgets frozen, which would mean no money for new initiatives such as cybersecurity or for routine increases for programs such as low-income housing.
"We're not going to do that," said Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa. "Of course not."
By freezing budgets for domestic agencies, the Republican plan would also deny additional money to modernize the U.S. nuclear arsenal and to build new Coast Guard cutters. GOP initiatives such as more money for the Small Business Administration or fossil fuels research would be hurt as well, but there's little appetite for the alternative, which is to stack more than $1 trillion worth of spending bills together for a single up-or-down vote.
The GOP move to add the line-by-line spending bills for the Pentagon and veterans programs to the catchall spending bill would give the military much-sought increases for force readiness and the VA additional funding for health care.
But that approach has few fans in the White House, which is seeking money to implement Obama's signature efforts to overhaul financial regulation and the nation's health care system, or the Democratic Senate, where veteran members of the Appropriations Committee want to add a stack of bills covering domestic priorities like homeland security, NASA and federal law enforcement agencies like the FBI.
"You need balance," said Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. "We feel as strongly about the domestic side as we do defense."