USA Today: Budget agreement averts government shutdown

This article first appeared online at USA Today on April 11, 2011.

Budget agreement averts government shutdown
By David Jackson and Jackie Kucinich

WASHINGTON — With a partial government shutdown just minutes away, President Obama and congressional leaders reached a tentative deal Friday night to cut $38.5 billion, or roughly 1%, from the current year’s budget.

The agreement, which must be approved by the Republican-controlled House and Democratic-controlled Senate next week, was accompanied by a six-day spending bill needed to fund the government beyond midnight. It’s the seventh stopgap measure required since the fiscal year began in October and, at Republicans’ behest, included about $2 billion of the agreed-upon cuts.

The Senate passed the funding extension late Friday, with the House following suit early Saturday morning.

“This agreement … is on a budget that invests in our future while making the largest annual spending cut in our history,” Obama said from the White House, the Washington Monument purposely positioned behind him. “Today we acted on behalf of our children’s future. Tomorrow, I’m pleased to announce, that the Washington Monument as well as the entire federal government will be open for business.”

Republican House Speaker John Boehner still must sell the agreement to his restive troops, including scores of conservatives aligned with the Tea Party who originally wanted $61 billion in spending cuts over seven months.

“This has been a lot of discussion, and a long fight,” Boehner said in a brief statement shortly before 11 p.m. ET. “We fought to keep government spending down because it really will, in fact, help create a better environment for job creators in our country.”

Even as they try to put the 2011 budget behind them, Obama and congressional leaders face several more pressing fiscal issues that will dominate the rest of the year. They must try to pass an increase in the government’s $14.3 trillion debt ceiling by mid-May, followed by a 2012 budget and possible long-term reductions in federal entitlement programs that are fueling annual $1 trillion-plus deficits.

The last-minute agreement to fund the government through Sept. 30, however, takes the immediate pressure off lawmakers who would have faced the wrath of voters angry over the shutdown. The last time it happened in 1995-96, Republicans who had stormed to power in the 1994 elections shouldered most of the blame, and President Bill Clinton was easily re-elected.

To reach a deal, Democrats agreed to cut about $5.5 billion more in spending than they previously had endorsed, and Republicans backed down on their effort to strip funds from Planned Parenthood. Overall, the new agreement cuts $38.5 billion from the 2011 budget, which is $78.5 billion less than Obama had originally proposed more than a year ago.

“It’s been a grueling process. … It’s been very hard to arrive at this point,” Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid said. “Both sides have had to make tough choices.”

The late-night, backroom dealing created confusion even among the lawmakers. As pizzas were delivered to the White House and all over Capitol Hill, Sen. Mike Johanns, R-Neb., mistakenly applauded on his website a deal on a stopgap funding bill that had not been announced.

In an effort to shape public opinion on a messy process that could hurt them at the polls, the two sides held a series of press conferences Friday to denounce their adversaries.

Reid accused Republicans of backing away from a deal on spending cuts in order to bar federal funds from Planned Parenthood — an issue not related to spending. By mid-afternoon, he was declaring the talks at an “impasse.”

Boehner accused Democrats of refusing to cut spending enough. “We’re not going to roll over and sell out the American people like has been done time and time again in Washington,” he said.

Obama spoke by phone with both congressional leaders as they shuttled between meetings. He canceled a Friday trip to Indiana and a weekend family getaway to Colonial Williamsburg, Va., to work on the budget.

Tempers continued to fray throughout the day. Reid accused Boehner of kow-towing to his conservative Tea Party faction, who Reid said were “willing … to throw women under the bus even if it means shutting down the government.” He urged Republican leaders to “snap out of it.”

Without a deal, “It will be crystal clear to Americans that Democrats were reasonable and Republicans are responsible for shutting down the government,” Reid said.

Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a statement that the issue goes beyond abortion rights: “It’s an outrage to shut down the government over an extreme proposal that would deny millions of women Pap tests, breast cancer screenings and birth control,” she said.

Boehner and other Republicans said the problem was that Democrats didn’t want to cut enough money from the budget. But it was clear that abortion lurked in the background.

“It is extraordinary that the president sees federal funding for the nation’s number-one abortion provider as more important than paychecks for federal workers and funding for our military,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, which opposes abortions.

The issues not only include the amount of money to cut from the budget, but which specific programs to cut. Few details were available Friday night on the breakdown between domestic and defense programs.

If a deal had not been reached, all non-essential operations of the government would have been shut down. That included national parks and forests, museums and monuments — including those in Washington during its annual Cherry Blossom Festival.

An estimated 800,000 federal employees would have been furloughed, troops on the battlefield would not have been paid, and a variety of services would have been curtailed, ranging from paper income tax returns to federal mortgage loans and District of Colombia trash collection.

Even with the last-minute deal, there were casualties. The State Department canceled Saturday’s planned “Passport Day in the USA,” when U.S. citizens could have gotten passports without an appointment.

Ironically, the Jimmy Carter Library and Museum in Atlanta announced it was closed “due to a federal government shutdown.” And the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum in Austin said in the event of a shutdown, “we will not be able to tweet.”

Contributing: Fredreka Schouten, Catalina Camia and Richard Wolf

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