It now seems likely that a feared government shutdown at the end of this week will be averted, but the reprieve is only temporary. If Congress can't agree on a budget deal soon, the threat will return in two weeks.
It now appears unlikely that the government will shut down at the end of this week as Senate Democrats have reportedly accepted a Republican measure to immediately slash $4 billion in federal spending by cutting programs that President Barack Obama targeted for elimination in his latest budget proposal.
However, the measure only delays the possible shutdown. The House Appropriations Committee unveiled the short-term Continuing Resolution (CR) Feb. 25 to keep the government operating until March 18, which would give lawmakers two more weeks to reach a compromise on a funding bill. The current CR expires March 4. If Congress can't agree on a longer-term funding bill or another stopgap, the shutdown chances will return.
The short-term measure proposed by House Republicans last week would permit federal agencies to continue operating at current funding levels, except for eight programs that were marked for significant cuts or termination in Obama’s fiscal 2012 budget request. The new CR is expected to be taken up by the House March 1.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said there is now a “clear path” to averting a government shutdown this Friday. “By supporting the House bill, our friends on the other side of the aisle will have the chance to ensure that the government remains operational while we work with them to identify additional ways to shrink Washington spending this year,” McConnell said, according to the Washington Post.
The House passed an earlier continuing resolution Feb. 19 that would cut a total of $61 billion from almost every federal agency over the seven remaining months of fiscal 2011. But the bill was widely criticized by Senate Democrats and had little to no chance of passing that chamber. The Obama administration also came out in opposition to the deep cuts included in the first continuing resolution.
Democrats appeared cautiously optimistic that the compromise could signal a change that will avert more shutdown worries.
“We are encouraged to hear that Republicans are abandoning their demands for extreme measures like cuts to border security, cancer research and food safety inspectors and instead moving closer to Democrats’ position that we should cut government spending in a smart, responsible way that targets waste and excess while keeping our economy growing,” said, Jon Summers, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry (D-Nev.), the Post reported.
The possibility of a shutdown had raised concerns among federal employees, as well as contractors, about how their work and pay would be affected.