Government shutdown looms


The likelihood of a federal shutdown increased markedly April 5 following failure to reach agreement over funding for the remainder of the federal fiscal year during a White House meeting with President Obama and congressional leaders.

In a press conference held afterward, Obama said he would not agree to a House Republican proposal that would fund the Defense Department through Sept. 30, when the current fiscal yet ends, and the rest of government through April 15. The House proposal, H.R. 1363, would make $12 billion in cuts.

"I can't have our agencies making plans based on two week budgets," Obama said. Attending the meeting were House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) and Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii).

Obama said that House Republicans, the Senate and White House are near to a compromise for a bill that would fund the government for the last two quarters of the fiscal year.

"We are now closer than we have ever been to getting an agreement. There's no reason why we should not get an agreement," he said. Temporary spending bills called continuing resolutions that last weeks to months have been the federal government's lot since the start of fiscal 2011 on Oct. 1, in a year when Congress has been unwilling to approve year-long spending bills. The current continuing resolution expires at midnight on April 8.

Obama's optimism didn't seem to find reflection in Boehner, who released an April 5 statement that Democratic proposals to cut $33 billion in spending when measured against fiscal 2010 amounts "is not enough, and much of it is based on gimmicks." The House approved along party lines in February a spending bill that would make $61 billion in cuts from fiscal 2010 levels.

Boehner also hit back on Obama's criticism of Republican legislative riders in the budget that would block the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gases and strip Planned Parenthood of federal funding. "We've also made clear that policy provisions must be part of any final agreement," Boehner said.

However, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Boehner met later on April 5 in a meeting Reid's spokesman characterized as "a productive discussion."

Still, the possibility of a shutdown has become real enough for Office of Personnel Management to issue April 5 guidance to federal employees about their medical insurance coverage during a shutdown. Only "excepted" employees performing work involving the safety of human life or the protection of property or performing the minimal activities necessary to execute a shutdown or other types of excepted work will be able to work through the shutdown the OPM guidance notes.

Other federal employees are not allowed to volunteer their work during a shutdown, since that would be a violation of the Antideficiency Act. A shutdown would not affect presidential appointees paid on an annual basis.

The House Administration Committee also became sufficiently concerned to issue April 5 guidance, according to the Washington Post, telling congressional offices that only "essential" personnel whose work directly related to constitutional responsibilities, to the protection of human life, or to the protection of property would be able to work during a shutdown.

During his April 5 press conference, Obama said he would hold meetings again with congressional leaders if a deal was not reached that day. "If they can't sort it out, then I want them back here tomorrow," he said. The current presidential schedule shows Obama departing Washington, D.C. at 12:15 p.m. for a trip to Philadelphia and New York, not arriving in the White House again until 8:50 p.m.

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