April 8, 2011 in Nation/World

Congress reaches deal, shutdown averted

McClatchy Newspapers
 

WASHINGTON — Congress and the White House late tonight barely beat the clock and averted a partial government shutdown, agreeing to a last-minute deal to cut at least $38.5 billion from federal spending.

Congress will not vote on the deal, which would fund the government for the last six months of the fiscal year, until next week. In the meantime, negotiators agreed to a shorter-term stopgap spending plan to keep the government running through Thursday.

Approval is expected late tonight to keep the government open past midnight.

“We have agreed to an historic amount of cuts for the remainder of this fiscal year, as well as a short-term bridge that will give us time to avoid a shutdown while we get that agreement through both houses and to the president,” said a joint statement by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio.

GOP members of the House of Representatives were briefed on the deal late Friday, and there was virtually no dissension.

“It sounds like it’s all it can be,” said Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga.

Without an agreement, much of the government would have begun shutting down at 12:01 a.m. Saturday.

Today proved to be an all-day, all-evening frenzy of behind the scenes offers and counter-offers. Obama talked to Reid and Boehner during the day, but the two sides were stuck for hours on precisely how to cut spending and whether to cut federal funds for Planned Parenthood.

The women’s health organization, the nation’s largest abortion provider, became a prime Republican target. The GOP-majority House of Representatives in February attached several social policy changes, including cutting off money to effect climate change policy and implement the 2010 health care law.

Those changes were dropped, but the Planned Parenthood provision remained, and became the focal point of congressional debate all day — until it too was dropped Friday night. In return, Republicans got more spending cuts.

They also got assurances that there will be separate votes on the most controversial provisions, including Planned Parenthood, climate change policy and repealing the health care law.

Democrats had wanted $33 billion in cuts; Republicans originally sought $61 billion, then trimmed their request to $40 billion.

There was little dissent among GOP House lawmakers. Although they were elected in November on a “Pledge to America” to cut even more spending, they privately urged Republican leaders to take the deal.

A shutdown, many concluded, would be highly unpopular — a point that polls reinforced. And, Republicans contended, there would be other, more consequential budget fights throughout the year.

“Our goal is not to shut down the government,” Boehner said. “Our goal is to cut spending.”

Another effort is likely next week, when the House is expected to consider a 10-year spending plan to cut $6.2 trillion and make dramatic changes in tax, Medicare and Medicaid policy.

President Barack Obama had told lawmakers to give him a plan Friday morning but that deadline slipped, and the three principals were largely out of the public eye all day.

Boehner met with House Republicans for about an hour Friday afternoon and stuck to spending issues. He got applause several times as he described his intention to keep fighting for big cuts.

“It’s about spending,” said Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C. “That’s what the Speaker is focused on.”

Reid and other Democrats protested that Republicans were being too obstinate by refusing for hours to budge on Planned Parenthood.

“For weeks we’ve been told that (this budget) is about cutting spending,” said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash. “Now at the 11th hour, we find out what it’s really about.”


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