Clock ticks down on government shutdown

Apr 7 2011 - 6:55pm

Images

(SUE OGROCKI/The Associated Press)
Justin Castro, a National Park Service employee, is pictured during an interview at his job site, the Oklahoma City National Memorial, in Oklahoma City on Thursday. President Barack Obama and top congressional leaders bargained and blustered by turns Thursday, short of an agreement to cut federal spending and avoid a government shutdown today at midnight.
(SUE OGROCKI/The Associated Press)
Justin Castro, a National Park Service employee, is pictured during an interview at his job site, the Oklahoma City National Memorial, in Oklahoma City on Thursday. President Barack Obama and top congressional leaders bargained and blustered by turns Thursday, short of an agreement to cut federal spending and avoid a government shutdown today at midnight.

WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama and congressional leaders bargained and blustered by turns Thursday, still short of an agreement to cut federal spending and head off a today at midnight government shutdown that no one claimed to want.

Obama met with House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., at the White House at midday, and the three agreed to reconvene after dinner. In the interim, they dispatched aides to pursue a deal in negotiations in the Capitol.

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

Obama threatened to veto the bill even before it 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.

Each side insisted the other would be to blame for the pain of a partial shutdown.

In a shift in position, Obama said he would sign a short-term measure to give negotiations more time to succeed.

That was one of the options available to Reid, although Boehner said he was confident Democratic lawmakers would persuade "Reid and our commander in chief to keep the government from shutting down" by signing the House-passed bill.

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

It also would be felt unevenly, said Jeff Zients, deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget. Military troops would not receive their full paychecks, but Social Security recipients would still get monthly benefits, he said.

"National parks, national forests and the Smithsonian Institution would all be closed. The NIH Clinical Center will not take new patients, and no new clinical trials will start," he added in a roll call of expected agency closings.

But the air traffic control system would stay up and running, the emergency management agency would still respond to natural disasters and border security would not be affected.

There was no indication Reid planned to bring the House-passed stopgap bill to a vote, and he accused Republicans of blocking a deal by demanding anti-abortion provisions and a blockade on Environmental Protection Agency regulations on greenhouse gas and other pollutants.

"We don't have the time to fight over the Tea Party's extreme social agenda," he said.

It was unclear whether the day's maneuvering marked attempts by negotiators to gain final concessions before reaching agreement, or represented a significant setback to efforts to avoid a shutdown.

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