Lawmakers strike last-minute deal to avoid shutdown

McClatchy NewspapersApril 8, 2011 

Lights burned in the U.S. Capitol late Friday as Congress struggled to reach a budget compromise.

AP PHOTO/J. DAVID AKE

WASHINGTON — Congress and the White House late Friday 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.

While no details were available — many will be worked out over the next few days — Democrats got the GOP to abandon efforts to cut funding for Planned Parenthood. And Republicans were able to get Democrats to agree to a budget cut close to what the GOP sought.

Convening shortly after the midnight deadline had passed, the House of Representatives voted 348 to 70 for a stopgap spending plan to keep the government running through Thursday. It earlier passed the Senate on a voice vote. President Barack Obama was expected to sign it early Saturday.

Obama, who'd pressed lawmakers for the last three days to reach a deal, earlier announced the agreement at the White House.

"Tomorrow, I'm pleased to announce that the Washington Monument, as well as the entire federal government, will be open for business," Obama said, pointing to the nearby landmark, which would have been closed to visitors had the government shut down. "And that's because today Americans of different beliefs came together again."

At the Capitol, House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., issued a joint statement.

"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," they said.

House of Representatives Republicans 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. The Office of Management and Budget issued a statement just before midnight instructing federal agencies "to continue their normal operations."

The agreement was a calm, collegial end to a day that was a 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 and repealing the health care law.

Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., who said he was pleased with the deal, noted that any Senate vote to cut funding to Planned Parenthood isn't likely to pass but "it will put the people (in the Senate) on record, which Reid didn't want to do."

Overall, 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. Though 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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