Government shutdown 2011 avoided with 11th-hour budget deal

Approaching a midnight deadline Friday night, House, Senate, and Obama administration came to agreement on a budget, avoiding a government shutdown. But tough political fights remain.

By , Staff Writer

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    Speaker of the House John Boehner announces a budget deal in the Capitol in Washington Friday night, April 8, 2011. The US Senate hurriedly passed a stopgap spending bill to fund the federal government for one week to avert a government shutdown at midnight.
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At literally the 11th hour Friday night, House, Senate, and Obama administration avoided a government shutdown and came to agreement on a budget for the rest of the fiscal year that nobody loves but that all were willing to live with.

It doesn’t solve the nation’s debt and deficit problems, and it certainly doesn’t settle the non-spending policy issues that had bedeviled the process of getting to yes – abortion is only the most obvious.

Politically, it’s the first major illustration of tea party-fueled conservatism behind resurgent Republicans who took back the US House of Representatives in last fall’s elections. And as such, it sharply hints at the difficulty all factions face in trying to craft a budget for FY 2012 – which begins just a few months hence – within both major parties as well as between them.

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Among the details:

Discretionary spending for the rest of FY 2011 is nearly $39 billion less than had been budgeted for the previous year and $79 billion less than Obama had wanted for 2011.

Controversial “riders” eliminating federal funds for Planned Parenthood and for EPA regulation of greenhouse gases linked to global climate change were set aside. Riders that did make it through prevent the use of federal or local funds to pay for abortion services in the District of Columbia; another rider lets District of Columbia students use federally funded vouchers to attend private schools.

Another stopgap measure

Because there was so little time left to avoid a government shutdown as the clock ticked past 11 p.m toward a midnight deadline, lawmakers also agreed to a stopgap measure covering the next several days until the spending measure for the rest of this fiscal year can be finished and signed into law.

Avoiding a government shutdown had become paramount for all but a few lawmakers willing to force the issue. Some 800,000 federal workers would have been furloughed. National parks would have closed. Many Americans might have seen a delay in receiving their income tax refunds. Government contractors wouldn’t have been paid.

Which side would have been most hurt by a shutdown is unclear. Fifteen years ago, Republicans and then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich and the GOP’s “Contract with America” took much of the blame.

Still, Obama is the nation’s chief executive charged with running the departments of government, and his job performance “has remained mostly stagnant since late February,” according to a Rutgers-Eagleton poll released Friday. Just 46 percent of those surveyed gave him an “A” or “B” grade on job performance. A shutdown certainly wouldn’t have improved his standing with voters, nor would it have helped his recently-announced reelection bid.

"The largest spending cut in history"

In a statement shortly after the budget agreement was reached, Obama called it “the largest annual spending cut in our history.”

“Like any worthwhile compromise, both sides had to make tough decisions and give ground on issues that were important to them. And I certainly did that,” Obama said.

“Some of the cuts we agreed to will be painful. Programs people rely on will be cut back. Needed infrastructure projects will be delayed. And I would not have made these cuts in better circumstances,” he said. “But beginning to live within our means is the only way to protect those investments that will help America compete for new jobs – investments in our kids’ education and student loans; in clean energy and life-saving medical research. We protected the investments we need to win the future.”

“As you all know, this has been a loud discussion and a long fight,” House Speaker John Boehner said in announcing the agreement. “But we fought to keep government spending down because it really will, in fact, help create a better environment for job creators in our country.”

By most accounts, Boehner finishes this critical stage in the government spending process in a stronger political position.

“In the end, Boehner got far more than he gave up, and far more than Obama, [Senate Majority Leader Harry] Reid and the Democrats were initially willing to offer,” write John Bresnahan and Jake Sherman at Politico.com. “It sets the stage for a stronger hand for Boehner as he enters politically perilous fights to raise the debt ceiling and pass 2012 spending bills.”

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