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Barring an unforeseen development, the federal government will shut down Friday, as Democrats and Republicans have failed to come to an agreement on a budget deal of the 2011 fiscal year. “There is no agreement on a number. There [is] no agreement on the policy issues,” House Speaker Boehner reported. “We’re continuing to work toward an agreement…But we are not there yet.” Late Thursday, the House of Representatives passed another continuing resolution (CR) aimed at funding the government for one more week and the military for the rest of the year, but the White House issued a statement indicating that president Obama would veto the measure. Both maneuvers indicate one thing above all else: each party is determined to convince the public the other one is responsible for the government shutdown.
Why is there a showdown at all? The Democratically-controlled 111th Congress, for the first time since 1974 when current budget procedures were enacted, failed to pass any budget at all. Once again, politics played an important part in that decision. Democrats, knowing they were facing an uphill battle in the 2010 election, opted not to pass a budget weighted down with another trillion dollars-plus in deficit spending, as such a budget would be a gift for Republican candidates — both congressional and presidential — who would be campaigning on a platform of fiscal responsibility.
Yet in an attempt to defuse that reality, some Democrats are claiming that a White House agenda “so large and so time-consuming” left them with little time or political will to enact a budget. They also claim that the bruising health care bill battle–enacted without a single Republican vote and against well-polled public opposition–had, as a former House Democrat who lost in 2010 told Fox News, “overloaded the circuits.”
Thus, for the past six months, a series of CRs have been keeping the government open, with both parties trying to assess who might be blamed should the inevitable occur. A Pew Research poll reveals an ambiguous public: 39 percent say Republicans would be more to blame for a government shutdown, 36 percent say the Obama administration, and 16 percent blamed both sides. A Washington Post poll showed a 37-37 percent split, but indicated that Republicans might be in greater trouble with 61 percent saying Republicans were “playing politics” with the budget compared to only 51 percent of those polled accusing the Obama administration of the same thing.
Hence the gamesmanship embodied in the Republican attempt to pass yet another continuing resolution with $12 billion in cuts, despite Senate Majority leader Harry Reid’s declaration that the CR is “a fantasy,” and “a non-starter in the Senate” where Democrats maintain a majority. Republicans were hoping to get Senate Democrats to reject the bill so they could be blamed for the final nail in the compromise coffin. The White House’s response was equally calculating; despite announcing the president would veto the latest CR as is, the administration reiterated the idea that if the House came up with a “clean” version of a CR, as in one with less spending cuts and no policy riders, a deal might still be possible. The president emerged late Thursday night to announce that although the process was “further along,” a deal had yet to be made. In a statement announcing the impasse, the Mr. Obama sought to highlight the downsides of a government shutdown, and expressed the hope there would be an agreement by morning.
According to The New York Times, both House Speaker Boehner and Senate majority leader Reid indicated that their meeting with the president on Thursday afternoon “had moved negotiations forward” and that they would return to the White House at 7 p.m. in hopes of reaching a deal. The paper further reported that Democrats claim both sides are close in terms of money, with less than five billion dollars separating them, even as Republicans insist negotiators are still divided over how deep to slash spending. Both sides concede that ideological barriers remain “major obstacles” with the most serious being abortion funding and changes in EPA regulations.
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