Boehner, Reid reach early deal to avert congressional shutdown
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WASHINGTON -- Congressional leaders reached a short-term spending deal Tuesday that would remove the possibility of a government shutdown from the fall campaign season.
Fiscal conservatives who swept into office in 2010 on promises to battle for lowered spending at every turn showed a new willingness to pick their fights as they seek a big November win.
Under an agreement announced by House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., Congress would agree to fund the government for six months when the current fiscal year expires Sept. 30, setting agency spending for the year at $1.047 trillion, as agreed upon in last summer's debt deal. It is just above this year's level of $1.043 trillion.
If approved, the deal will ensure that the government will keep operating without fuss, a once-routine action that has become far more difficult amid Congress' gridlock.
The quick resolution demonstrated that neither party savored a major budget showdown weeks before the November elections. The bill's six-month time frame means government has the operating funds necessary to function through March, removing one issue from the list of difficult questions that will face Congress in December.
But it doesn't resolve broader fiscal questions they will face after the November election, including how to deal with scheduled tax hikes and additional automatic defense and domestic spending cuts set to take effect in January.
Despite the deal, Mr. Reid and Mr. Boehner said more time is needed to draft it into legislation, and it will not come up for votes in the House and Senate until September, when Congress returns from a six-week recess.
Still, Mr. Reid said the agreement would provide the government stability in coming months and allow Congress to quickly turn to other pressing fiscal issues after the election. "It puts this out of the way, and that's very important," he said.
White House press secretary Jay Carney called the deal a "welcome development." He elaborated: "The president has made clear that it is essential that the legislation to fund the government adheres to the funding levels agreed to by both parties last year. The president will work with leaders in both parties to sign a bill that accomplishes these goals."
Democrats and the White House have insisted for months on the $1.047 trillion level -- a spending cap agreed to by both parties in last summer's deal to raise the nation's debt ceiling.
Some conservatives have chafed, viewing the number as a maximum spending level and insisting that Congress should push actual spending for the year even lower. A budget for the full year, outlined by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., set agency spending at $1.028 trillion for the year.
But a number of GOP freshman who have regularly voted against spending measures -- and who exactly a year ago helped push the nation to the brink of a first-ever default in pursuit of deep budget cuts -- indicated Tuesday that they could sign on to the deal.
They argued that a short-term concession could improve Republicans' leverage, if they win the White House and take control of the Senate in November, to achieve more dramatic change. It is the kind of big-picture strategizing that GOP leaders have sometimes fretted their restive newest members lacked.
"You can't fight every fight," said Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-N.C., arguing that the election won't be decided on small spending differentials, but instead on the two party's broad competing visions for the country. "Our numbers will be stronger after November. So we'll be in better shape with a President Romney and a Republican House and Senate to write a good budget that solves the problem," he said.
Fellow freshman Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-S.C., said he is deeply troubled by the $1.047 trillion number, but will likely support it. "It's a lousy deal," he said. "But I think in the long run it gets us a better chance to get what we want."
Conservatives argue that a six-month deal, lasting through March 2013, would deny Democrats the chance to use the threat of a shutdown as leverage during a broader tax-and-spending debate set to take place during Congress' lame-duck session in December.
"Lame-duck sessions are usually a disaster. The less we're doing during the lame duck, the better," said freshman Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kansas, who has criticized GOP leaders for not slashing spending quickly enough. He cautioned that he was concerned that the deal may allow continued funding for implementation of the Democrats' health care reform bill, a sticking point that could still spell trouble for the deal.
First Published August 1, 2012 12:00 am