Last-Minute Deal Prevents a Shutdown

Posted April 9, 2011 at 12:18am

Congress late Friday narrowly averted a government shutdown after Democrats and Republicans agreed to cut $39 billion in spending over the next six months.

As part of the deal struck by Speaker John Boehner, Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) and the White House, Congress shortly before midnight passed a seven day stop-gap spending bill, which itself includes $2 billion in funding reductions.

The Senate approved the measure by voice vote, then about an hour later the House voted 348-70 to pass it, as well.

In a joint statement, Reid and Boehner hailed the agreement.

“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. We will cut $78.5 billion below the president’s 2011 budget proposal, and we have reached an agreement on the policy riders,” they said.

“In the meantime, we will pass a short-term resolution to keep the government running … That short-term bridge will cut the first $2 billion of the total savings,” the two leaders added.

Likewise, President Barack Obama lauded the deal. “Tomorrow I’m pleased to announce that the Washington monument as well as the entire federal government, will remain open,” Obama said. Obama said he was able to protect investments in the future, but said the nation needs to start living within its means. “Today we acted on behalf of our children’s future.”

The agreement included significant concessions from both sides.

How much ground Democrats lost on spending grew increasingly clear as Boehner not only forced billions in cuts but shifted the entire debate away from the traditional fight over how much to spend and into a fight over how much to cut.

The philosophical shift is significant: with the 2012 budget battle already on their doorstep, Democrats are likely to find themselves on unfamiliar footing for the remainder of the 112th Congress.

More practically, Democrats had hoped to keep the reductions far lower than the $39 billion they ended up accepting. But after Republicans were able to force a series of short-term spending measures worth $10 billion in cuts on them, Democrats clearly realized deep reductions were coming one way or another.

But even after Reid and Obama offered to cut $33 billion in spending — more than half of what the House had originally passed and $2 billion more than Boehner’s original proposal — the Ohio Republican continued to squeeze Democrats for even further reductions.

After his chamber had agreed to the bill by voice vote, a clearly tired Reid acknowledged that, “I don’t think happy’s the right word. I’m satisfied. We did some hard work. It was a tough negotiation.”

For Republicans, perhaps the biggest loss came on the issue of policy riders. The House GOP, particularly its conservative wing, had for weeks demanded that any deal include dozens of controversial policy riders including abortion provisions, limits on the EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse emissions and even provisions dealing with certain types of coal mining. In the end, the final deal included a school voucher program in the District of Columbia, and a prohibition on the city from using federal or local money to pay for abortions

To get Republicans to sign off on the deal, Democrats agreed that the long-term package would be paired with Senate votes on two other bills that mimic controversial riders: a proposal to bar federal funding for Planned Parenthood and one to bar federal agencies from using funds to implement the health care law, a senior Democratic leadership aide said. Republican lawmakers leaving Friday night’s caucus said they were told those votes would occur. The aide said both bills would be subject to a 60-vote threshold.

Republican Policy Committee Chairman Tom Price predicted that the separate Senate votes would appease House GOP lawmakers who had been pushing hard for the riders.

“Those are pluses that I don’t think many of us dreamed we would be able to get,” said the Georgia Republican. “So I think they’re huge — to put folks on record as to whether or not they support the government takeover of health care. … Part of all of this is to demonstrate to the American people that there is a huge contrast between the leadership of the left and the leadership of the right.”

The final deal also reportedly includes only a $2 billion increase in defense spending this year, some $4 billion less than Republicans had originally sought. That reduction came as part of a series of mandatory spending cuts that were included at the behest of Democrats.

Republicans wanted to keep as much of the cuts as possible in discretionary spending accounts in order to reduce the baseline level of funding for future budgets. But Democrats balked at the steep reductions in spending Republicans had originally proposed.

In the end, the deal also fell $22 billion short of the House’s original $61 billion in spending cuts, which left some conservatives unhappy. Republican Study Committee Chairman Jim Jordan, who had been pivotal in keeping CR negotiations going for the chance at steeper cuts, emerged visibly disappointed from the closed-door meeting and said he would vote against the long-term deal.

The RSC initially was a driving force behind Boehner’s pursuit to cut $61 billion in spending. Jordan said that mark was “a modest first step” and crucial in gaining ground for future debates over the budget and debt limit increase.

According to Jordan, that combined with the lack of abortion provisions was too much for some conservatives. “We wanted more advancement on the life issue than what was in the final package,” Jordan said.

But despite some defections, Republicans were feeling good about the bill.

“I think everybody would love to have a larger cut, but we didn’t win the Senate and we didn’t win the White House and so we’re moving the ball forward and we’re damn proud of the yardage we gained on it,” said Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.), who sits on the Appropriations Committee.

Kathleen Hunter, Jessica Brady and Daniel Newhauser contributed to this report.