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Congress moves toward deal to avert shutdown

From NBC's Ken Strickland
A statement released late Friday by the office of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid suggests Congress is moving towards a deal to avoid a government shutdown--at least for the short term.  Democrats say they are "encouraged" by reports about the short term spending bill that House Republicans are expected to pass and send to the Senate on Tuesday.

"The plan Republicans are floating today sounds like a modified version of what Democrats were talking about." said Reid's spokesman Jon Summers in a statement.

A senior Democratic aide warned that the devil was in the details, and that leaders had yet to examine the full details of the entire House bill, which would fund the government for two weeks and includes $4-billion in spending cuts.

Still, Democrats appear to be much more optimistic about the short term fix than they had been earlier this week.

What's changed?

Yesterday, Senate Democrats said they were combing through the president's 2012 budget request, looking for spending cuts that could be applied this year. They also said they'd entertain cutting $8.5-billion worth of earmarks in the current spending bill that was passed by Congress in December.

Today, as House Republicans announced some of the details of their short term bill, they also cited earmarks and included similar cuts from the president's 2012 budget. (You can read the House proposal here.)

In a written statement, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said the House bill "focuses on bipartisan ideas to reduce federal spending."

"President Obama and congressional Democrats agree with Republicans that these are potential areas to reduce spending, removing any excuses they have offered for demanding their status quo spending levels,” McConnell wrote. “As a result, there is now a clear path to finishing this short-term measure before the March 4th deadline."

Privately, Senate Republicans feel they have boxed Reid into a procedural corner and forced him to accept the House-backed bill. GOP aides say it would have been almost impossible for Reid to pass a Democratic bill before the government runs out of money at the end of next week.

 If an agreement can be reached for a short term fix, a much larger fight remains on a longer-term bill that would fund government operations through September.

The long term bill that House Republicans passed last week contained $60-billion in spending cuts. Senate Democrats called it dead on arrival.

"We should keep our focus on what we need to do to cut spending and keep our economy growing in the long-term," said Reid's spokesman Jon Summers."But the 'my way or the highway' approach Republicans have been taking in the past only signals a desire for a government shutdown that our country can't afford. We hope this is a sign that they have abandoned it and will work with Democrats moving forward."

While Republicans say they “welcome” the news that Democrats appear fairly warm to their two-week spending proposal, GOP House leader Eric Cantor reiterated his party’s demand for deeper slashes to the longer-term measure that would fund the government until the end of the fiscal year.

“I’d caution my Senate Democrat colleagues to make sure that their cuts are significant and serious spending reduction proposals, not just minor efforts to trim around the edges,” he said in a statement.

Msnbc.com's Carrie Dann contributed.