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Obama signs legislation pushing shutdown deadline to March 18

By Alan Silverleib, CNN
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: President Obama signs the spending extension into law
  • Vice President Joe Biden will come to Capitol Hill by Thursday for budget talks
  • Senate passed a bill that would prevent government shutdown through March 18
  • The bill, cuts spending by $4 billion

Washington (CNN) -- President Barack Obama on Wednesday signed into law a measure that extends funding for the federal government by two more weeks, through March 18, while cutting $4 billion from current spending levels.

The legislation passed earlier in the day by the Senate gives congressional negotiators two more weeks to work out a more comprehensive spending plan for the rest of the fiscal year or face a government shutdown.

Without the bill, much of the federal government would have shut down when the current spending resolution expires at midnight Friday.

The Senate approved the measure on a 91-9 vote, after the House of Representatives passed it on Tuesday.

Top Democrats had indicated a preference for a month-long extension while legislators work on a plan for the remainder of fiscal year 2011, which ends September 30. Among other things, they have argued that passing a series of short-term funding measures will contribute to a climate of economic uncertainty.

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White House and congressional Democrats immediately upped the ante for the coming negotiations, announcing that Vice President Joe Biden will come to Capitol Hill within the next 24 hours to open talks with Republicans.

"We cannot keep doing business this way," Obama said in a statement released immediately after the Senate vote. "Living with the threat of a shutdown every few weeks is not responsible, and it puts our economic progress in jeopardy."

It is time to "find common ground on a budget that makes sure we are living within our means," the president said. "This agreement should be bipartisan, it should be free of any party's social or political agenda, and it should be reached without delay."

The Republican-led House already has passed a spending proposal that would cut $61 billion for the remainder of fiscal year 2011, and a senior House Republican leadership aide told CNN the party doesn't want to start talks until the Democrats unveil their own proposal.

The House of Representatives "has a position," said Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, in reference to the bill that Democrats consider draconian.

"How do you start a conversation where one (chamber) has spoken and the other one hasn't?" Boehner asked. "Where is the starting point?"

Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-New York, told reporters that Senate Democrats have been working on ideas that are being shared with the White House.

"We are submitting those ideas" to the administration and expect them to be incorporated in a proposal covering the rest of the fiscal year that will be brought to the negotiations, Schumer said.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, initially said "everything is on the table" when asked if the talks might include costly entitlements such as Medicare and Medicaid. He quickly exempted Social Security, however, stating that the program "is not going to be negotiated on my watch."

Neither party has put forward a detailed proposal for dealing with rising entitlement costs.

Schumer stressed that the $61 billion spending cut package passed by the Republican-controlled House is a "non-starter," emphasizing the belief among most Democrats that the reductions in discretionary spending included in the GOP package are too severe.

Democrats have repeatedly argued, among other things, that Republicans are exacerbating the budget crunch by refusing to allow an expiration of the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans.

Obama has threatened to veto the current GOP package if it reaches him. Some conservative freshman Republicans, meanwhile, are pressuring their leadership to increase the total level of cuts to $100 billion.

Democrats have highlighted a report from Moody's chief economist Mark Zandi, which concludes that the proposed GOP cuts would result in the loss of 700,000 jobs by the end of next year. Republicans, in turn, are trumpeting a new General Accounting Office report showing that billions of additional dollars could be saved by eliminating needless program duplication and overlap.

Americans are divided over whether a government shutdown resulting from the budget standoff would be good or bad for the country, according to a new national poll.

Forty-six percent of respondents to a Quinnipiac University survey released Wednesday said a government shutdown -- exempting essential workers -- would be good because it would stop the government from going further into debt.

Forty-four percent said a shutdown would be bad because it would lead to a denial of certain federal services.

Forty-seven percent of people questioned in the poll said they would hold congressional Republicans responsible for a government shutdown, while 38% indicated they would blame Obama and 15% were not sure who they would hold responsible.

CNN's Dana Bash, Tom Cohen, Jeanne Sahadi, Ted Barrett, Deirdre Walsh, and Paul Steinhauser contributed to this report.

 
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