Time is running out

House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio listens at left, as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nev. speaks to reporters outside the White House in Washington, Thursday, April 7, 2011, after their meeting with President Obama regarding the budget and possible government shutdown. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Uncomfortably close to a deadline, President Barack Obama and top congressional leaders have only hours to avert a Friday midnight government shutdown that all sides say would inconvenience millions of people and damage a still fragile economy.

Obama said he still hoped to announce an agreement on Friday but did not have “wild optimism.”

In revealing nothing about what still divides them, Obama and the lawmakers, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., all said another late night of talks in the Oval Office had narrowed their differences over cutting federal spending and other matters.

But Obama said ominously that the machinery of a shutdown was already in motion.

“I expect an answer in the morning,” Obama told reporters Thursday evening as representatives from the White House and Capitol Hill plunged ahead with negotiations into the night.

The aides were trying to cobble together a deal on how much federal spending to slash, where to cut it and what caveats to attach as part of a bill to fund the government through Sept. 30. A temporary federal spending measure expires at midnight Friday.

As the pressure mounted, Obama abruptly postponed plans to promote his agenda in Indiana on Friday.

For a nation eager to trim to federal spending but also weary of Washington bickering, the spending showdown had real implications.

A closure would mean the furloughs of hundreds of thousands of workers and the services they provide, from processing many tax refunds to approving business loans. Medical research would be disrupted, national parks would close and most travel visa and passport services would stop, among many others.

Obama spoke after a double-barreled day of meetings with Boehner and Reid. The three have held four such meetings this week.

Throughout Thursday, the president, Reid and Boehner bargained and blustered by turns, struggling to settle their differences while maneuvering to avoid any political blame if they failed.

With the economy just now beginning to create jobs in large numbers, the president said a shutdown would damage the recovery.

“For us to go backwards because Washington couldn’t get its act together is just unacceptable,” he said.

But agreement remained elusive.

Republicans passed legislation through the House at midday to fund the Pentagon for six months, cut $12 billion in domestic spending and keep the federal bureaucracy humming for an additional week.

“There is absolutely no policy reason for the Senate to not follow the House in taking these responsible steps to support our troops and to keep our government open,” Boehner said.

Obama flashed a veto threat even before the bill passed on a 247-181, mostly party-line vote. The administration issued a statement calling it “a distraction from the real work” of agreeing on legislation to cover the six months left in the current fiscal year, and there was no indication Reid would allow a vote on it.

As they left the White House after the evening meeting, Reid and Boehner issued a brief written statement that said they had narrowed their disagreements and said they would “continue to work through the night to attempt to resolve” the remaining ones.

Republicans want deeper spending cuts than the Democrats favor and also are pressing for provisions to cut off federal funds to Planned Parenthood and stop the Environmental Protection Agency from issuing numerous anti-pollution regulations.

“They’re difficult issues. They’re important to both sides and so I’m not yet prepared to express wild optimism,” the president said.

For all the brinksmanship — and the promise of more in the Senate on Friday — there was agreement that a shutdown posed risks to an economy still recovering from the worst recession in decades.

The political fallout was less predictable, especially with control of government divided and dozens of new tea party-backed Republicans part of a new GOP majority in the House. Twin government shutdowns in the mid-1990s damaged Republicans, then new to power in Congress, and helped President Bill Clinton win re-election in 1996.

This time, individual lawmakers worked to insulate themselves from any political damage. Sens. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, and Ben Nelson, D-Neb., both seeking new terms in 2012, became the latest to announce they would not accept their congressional salary during any shutdown. “If retroactive pay is later approved, I’ll direct my part to the U.S. Treasury,” Nelson said.

One day before the shutdown deadline, events unfolded in rapid succession.

In a shift in position, Obama said he would sign a short-term measure keeping the government running even without an agreement to give negotiations more time to succeed.

At the White House, a senior budget official said the impact of a shutdown “will be immediately felt on the economy.”

For all the tough talk, it did not appear the two parties were too far from a deal.

Officials in both parties said that in the past day or so, Democrats had tacitly agreed to slightly deeper spending cuts than they had been willing to embrace, at least $34.5 billion in reductions.

Agreement on that point was conditional on key details, but it was a higher total than the $33 billion that had been under consideration.

It also was less than the $40 billion Boehner floated earlier in the week — a number that Republicans indicated was flexible.

There also were hints of Republican flexibility on a ban they were seeking to deny federal funds to Planned Parenthood. Officials said that in talks at the White House that stretched on after midnight on Wednesday, Republicans had suggested giving state officials discretion in deciding how to distribute family planning funds that now go directly from the federal government to organizations such as Planned Parenthood.

That would presumably leave a decision on funding to governors, many of whom oppose abortion, and sever the financial link between the federal government and an organization that Republicans assail as the country’s biggest provider of abortions.

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Associated Press writers David Espo, Jim Kuhnhenn and Darlene Superville contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2011 The Associated Press

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8 Responses to "Time is running out"

  1. Michael Griffith aka Griff  April 8, 2011 at 7:05 am

    Oh the drama!

    I don’t know ’bout the rest of you all, but this is getting just a little out of hand. This government is f**king ridiculous. Who the f**k are these assholes, and how the hell did they come to hold this country hostage, an entire nation hanging on their every word, their every action?

    We’re more than half way through the fiscal year and we have no budget. What the hell have they been doing the last six months? The last year?

    The Hill People have way too much power. Every aspect of our lives hinges on what this government does or does not do. This isn’t the way America is supposed to operate.

    This is a sick joke. And the american Paople are the punchline.

    • Michael Griffith aka Griff  April 8, 2011 at 7:05 am

      Oops…People.

    • logtroll  April 8, 2011 at 9:31 am

      “Who the f**k are these assholes, and how the hell did they come to hold this country hostage, an entire nation hanging on their every word, their every action?”

      Like my Momma always said, “You get what the corporate free market pays for”.

      (Corporations are people, too, you know!)

  2. Keith  April 8, 2011 at 10:05 am

    Griff wrote:

    “The Hill People have way too much power. Every aspect of our lives hinges on what this government does or does not do. This isn’t the way America is supposed to operate.”

    Griff…this IS the way America is “supposed to operate”!

    The power of the purse has ALWAYS rested with the Congress. The Founding Fathers specifically DESIGNED it that way. What’s more, the workings of a federal republic (which is the form of government the US has embraced…we are NOT a “democracy”) is SUPPOSED to be messy. To me, these disagreements tell me that our long since “short sheeted” system is starting to (once again) work the way it was intended.

    Unfortunately, what the Founding Fathers never envisioned were “Congresspersons For Life” and Congressional candidates that remained in perpetual campaign mode from the day they took office and who now require millions of dollars in campaign money from so called “special interests” in order to KEEP getting elected.

    Indeed, if there is any blame to be leveled in this mess, we probably should start by looking in the mirror. WE are the people who keep electing (and re-electing) these clowns…sometimes for DECADES.

    And all the while we keep electing “Republicrats” who put THEIR narrow ideological interests ahead of the nation (and who have now driven the nation into bankruptcy), then we will continue to get what we now see….a group of self-serving, gormless idiots who haven’t yet learned how to work their way out of a paper bag.

    • Michael Griffith aka Griff  April 8, 2011 at 5:16 pm

      Preaching to the choir, my friend.

      I would agree with that sentiment. I’ve always said that gridlock is better than consensus – they do less damage that way. But this is elecoral posturing for the medicated masses, and nothing else. A difference of 30 billion dollars when our deficit is more than 14 trillion? All show and no go.

      And the mindless drivel about how this will effect the economy and all the other angles is simply ludicrous. Propaganda.

      I didn’t vote for any of these retards. Of course the rabbit hole goes far deeper than simply voting.

  3. Sandune  April 8, 2011 at 2:51 pm

    You can’t say you weren’t warned! I mentioned many times that the abortion issue would run this budget problem and the coming election. The Tea Party sits directly on the social issues and they are hiding behind a claim that it is the debt that drives them.

    Planned Parenthood takes in some federal grants but the abortion side of the clinic runs on private funds. It is driving the religious right quite mad to learn that their hold up is a lie. Is there no one who remembers the Hyde Bill that stops funding of abortions? How difficult is it to find the truth on the internet? You need entertainment and I will bet that this forum will support Trump for President. Anything less will be boring.

    I am certainly not pro abortion at any level but using this sensitive issue over the heads of the entire Republican Party might fly back at them when people remember how they used this bald faced lies as an issue.

    Roe vs Wade made abortions legal. Maybe if the GOP would get their dingas’s clipped and keep their pants on, we might not have such a grave problem. It is not going away and every issue that comes up in this new Conservative Congress will go through the same itshay. No one is forcing abortions on anyone and prior to the last House election, I tried to warn anyone to check the attitude of the congress critter before voting.

    The option to prohibit all abortions would drive them back in the gutter killing many young girls. The development of the War on Drugs would become a rehearsal for the War on Abortions that have been in the planning mode for years. It will be added to the Patriot’s Act and anyone who flies overseas for an abortion will be tried for treason.

    The cost of the war on drugs will triple when abortions are added to the laws. When Bush 43 was elected he set up new rules that would demand that all morning after pill would have to be copied for A.G. Ashcroft’s files. Any woman flying overseas will require a physical and x ray before she leaves the States. If she flies home without fetus, she will be in big trouble.

    I attended many of these planning meetings and the Christians are not fooling around with this issue. They want the designation of a Christian nation before Armageddon hits so all will go to heaven.

    If an unmarried girl becomes pregnant she will be placed in a facility where the baby will be born and turned over to a Christian home.

    I just answered the door to the Welcome Wagon but when the woman saw that I have an old black cat, she wouldn’t come in until I took the cat away. I told her to go away. She physically shook when she saw Emma. A damn ass 20 year old cat brought terror into this foolish old woman. What is happening in America tells me I have lived too long in a once free nation.

    • woody188  April 8, 2011 at 3:31 pm

      I think you are confusing the movie. “The Handmaid’s Tale” with reality.

      I don’t see the value of Planned Parenthood or any reason why it should collect any Federal dollars. Abortion has nothing to do with it. Contraceptives are cheaper than most alcohol, and plenty of people can afford their Mad Dog.

    • Michael Griffith aka Griff  April 8, 2011 at 7:05 pm

      That’s pretty off-the-wall, even by your standards.

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