Budget Battle Comes Down to the Wire

We’re now hours, not days, away from finding out if Democrat and Republican lawmakers can cut a deal on the 2011 budget and, thus, whether the government will keep running. A worst-case-scenario government shutdown would have broad consequences — 800,000 federal workers could be furloughed, bringing a screeching halt to home and small business loans, paper-filed tax refunds, and Saturday’s National Cherry Blossom Festival Parade here in Washington D.C. The nation’s military forces would continue working, but without pay.

“I remain confident that if we're serious about getting something done we should be able to complete a deal and get it passed and avert a shutdown,” President Obama said Wednesday night, after a meeting with Senate majority leader Harry Reid and House Speaker John Boehner to try and find a resolution. “We're going to keep on pounding away at this thing because I'm absolutely convinced that we can get this done.”


Can they? Reid doesn’t share the president’s hopeful outlook. “The numbers are basically there, but I’m not nearly as optimistic as I was 11 hours ago,” he said on the Senate floor Thursday morning, explaining the deadlock between Senate and House Republicans over funding for Planned Parenthood and the regulation authority of the Environmental Protection Agency. “The only thing holding up an agreement is ideology.”

There’s been much finger-pointing at Republicans for hinging a shutdown on policy demands over things like Planned Parenthood and NPR, which contribute a miniscule amount to the budget, but let’s not forget that if Democrats had actually passed a budget last year, when they had a majority in both houses, we wouldn’t be in this situation in the first place. Meanwhile, Obama’s moderate, non-confrontational leadership style hasn’t inspired a sense of urgency all this time.


In the latest move, House Republicans voted to keep the government open for another week, along with another $12 million in cuts, but Obama promised to veto the measure.

My sense is that a lot of this is a political kabuki dance and, behind closed doors they’ll reach a deal shortly before midnight on Friday. At worst, predicts Michael Fauntroy, an associate professor of public policy at George Mason University, there may be a symbolic shutdown for a couple of days where both sides get to claim some measure of victory.

“The Republicans will get to claim that they forced the president to agree to their cuts, while the Democrats will be able to say that they protected Planned Parenthood and stood up for the issues they felt most strongly about,” Fauntroy told The Root. Whatever the deal looks like in the end, though, nobody’s going to love it.

“The Republicans are going to have a particularly difficult problem because Speaker Boehner has a significant portion of his party that is unwilling to compromise,” said Fauntroy, chalking it up to the inexperience of some of Congress’ new Tea Party-supported members. “A lot of these House Republican freshmen are very inexperienced in the legislative process. Speaker Boehner’s going to be forced, if he wants to get a deal done, to do something that’s going to anger many of them, even though he probably knows it’s the right thing to do.”


The budget compromise stands to anger Democratic voters too, especially if Obama and Democratic leadership capitulate on Planned Parenthood funding and EPA authority. “If they do that, they’re going to have real problems,” said Fauntroy, alluding to a lefty base that's already disappointed by Obama’s tendency to cave. “The president’s re-election could be hanging on this. There are just so many times that you can diss your base and get away with it.”

Well, if a deal is struck we’ll see the verdict very soon. What’s your prediction?


This article has been updated to reflect that the government shutdown could take place on Friday, April 8.

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