Wednesday, April 6, 2011

WASHINGTON — A federal government shutdown came one day closer to reality Tuesday, as a White House meeting with leaders in Congress failed to produce a compromise spending plan.

Since the Republican House and the Democratic Senate remain divided, the government is days away from having its legal authority to spend money expire. Congress must pass a bill by midnight Friday to avert a shutdown of most federal agencies.

GOP: Party seeking dramatic changes in Medicare and Medicaid

BUDGET: House GOP proposes nearly $6 trillion in cuts

After the White House meeting, the participants gave simultaneous — if different — accounts:

•President Obama. "We are now closer than we have ever been to getting an agreement," he said in a surprise briefing. "The only question is whether politics or ideology are going to get in the way of preventing a government shutdown."

•Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. "The Tea Party is driving the House of Representatives. It's not a matter of a number. We can get them their number. It's ideological with them."

•House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio. "We're going to fight for the largest cuts possible — real cuts, not more smoke and mirrors," he said.

Reid and Obama object to GOP proposals to cut funding for Planned Parenthood and the Environmental Protection Agency.

Two hours later, Boehner and Reid met again. Their spokesmen released identical statements saying they "had a productive discussion." Obama said he wants them back at the White House today. The House has voted for $61 billion in cuts from this year's budget. The Senate and White House have offered $33 billion.

Two previous shutdown showdowns have ended with short-term "continuing resolutions," funding the government two or three weeks at a time with $4 billion to $6 billion in cuts.

This time, all sides have said they don't want a stopgap bill. Even so, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers, R-Ky., has drafted an extension that would fund the Defense Department through September — and the rest of the government for another week. Total cuts: $12 billion.

No vote is scheduled, and Obama said he won't sign another short-term extension unless it's only for a few days to hash out a final, long-term deal.

Even as the president was working to avert it, his Office of Management and Budget was preparing for a government shutdown.

Deputy OMB Director Jeff Zients e-mailed federal agencies Monday that "given the realities of the calendar, good management requires that we continue contingency planning for an orderly shutdown."

Zients told agencies to share their secret contingency plans with top managers. But Bill Dougan of the National Federation of Federal Employees, urged him to also "share these plans with the hardworking federal employees who will be impacted the most by a government shutdown."

The House Administration Committee also released a shutdown plan, saying Capitol Hill employees necessary for security or for members to fulfill their constitutional responsibilities would continue to work through a shutdown. The only offices that will "definitely" shut down are the gift shop, visitor's center, botanic gardens and the flag office.


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