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Costs of federal shutdown would be felt far and wide

Little progress made in Congress as deadline for agreement looms

- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 6, 2011

IRS tax audits would be halted in their tracks, this weekend's National Cherry Blossom Festival Parade in Washington canceled, and national parks and the Smithsonian shuttered if Congress can't reach agreement on annual spending and the government shuts down at midnight Friday.

The military, federal law enforcement and other key officials would still be at work, earning pay - except their paychecks would be halted until the government funding stream is turned back on.

Negotiations on Capitol Hill continued Wednesday, and House Republicans readied a bill to extend the shutdown deadline by another week. Democrats, however, gave no signal they would accept the stopgap measure, arguing a final spending-cuts deal is there for the taking if the GOP would relent.

Late Wednesday night President Obama called House Speaker John A. Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to the White House for more than an hour of talks, and afterwards said a deal should be in reach if both sides are willing.

"What they did was narrow the issues and clarify the issues that are still outstanding," Mr. Obama told reporters afterward. "I remain confident that if we're serious about getting something done, we should be able to complete a deal and get it passed and avert a shutdown."

Mr. Boehner, speaking just after the president, said neither side wants a shutdown, but agreed there had been some slow movement.

"We do have some honest differences, but I do think we made some progress. But i want to reiterate, there's no agreement on a number and there's no agreement on policy riders," he said.

One senior administration official said a shutdown would delay Federal Housing Administration home-loan guarantees and close national parks, while the National Institutes of Health would have to stop admitting new patients or beginning new clinical trials.

The official also said it would halt Internal Revenue Service operations that aren't automated, including processing paper tax returns and doing tax audits - a prospect some Internet bloggers didn't find disagreeable.

The White House, though, said people should take a shutdown seriously.

"Some of you may not be that sympathetic. You may say, well, you know, let it shut down. What do I care?" Mr. Obama said at a town hall in Pennsylvania. "But here's the thing. When government shuts down, it means that a small-business owner who's waiting to get a loan, suddenly nobody's there to process it."

In the District, the seat of the federal government, the city's authority to spend its own money would expire Friday at midnight, and trash collections and parking-ticket writing would be halted. But police and firefighters still would report for duty, and schools would remain open.

Mayor Vincent C. Gray said that no other U.S. city has to think about the implications of a shutdown.

"If there ever was an illustration of why we need budget autonomy, this is it," he said.

Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District's nonvoting congressional delegate, said the Republican-controlled House has rejected her proposals that would permit the District to spend its local funds for the remainder of fiscal 2011.

"The fact is we could easily have been exempted," said Mrs. Norton, charging that Republican members of Congress were "going out of their way to inconvenience the District."

D.C. Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown said lawmakers are reviewing who is eligible to testify at scheduled hearings next week. Any canceled hearings would be held during the council's scheduled recess April 22-29.

Metro officials estimated that a shutdown could reduce ridership from 5 percent to 20 percent, adding that the agency was prepared to operate fewer of the eight-car trains used during peak travel times.

Congress is more than six months behind in passing bills to fund the government's basic operations for fiscal 2011, which began Oct. 1. Agencies and departments have been running on stopgap funding since.

Republicans, Democrats and the White House have been talking, but have failed to find a final agreement. Wednesday afternoon President Obama decided not enough progress had been made, and he called the top negotiators, House Speaker John A. Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, to the White House for an evening meeting.

"It would be easy to just fold your cards and go home. That's not what the American people elected us to do," Mr. Boehner said in the afternoon. "They elected us to cut spending because cutting spending will lead to a better environment for job creators to create jobs. And we're going to fight for as many spending cuts as we can get."

He said the House will vote Thursday on a stopgap bill that would include temporary funding for most of the government, but would fund the Defense Department through the rest of the year.

Republicans hope that earns the support of conservatives who had vowed not to pass another short-term bill, and blunt charges that troops would go without pay.

But Mr. Reid was sour on another short-term bill.

"President Obama is right. We can't keep funding our great country with one stopgap after another," he said.

The increasing prospect of a shutdown has raised the temperature on Capitol Hill, and that boiled over Wednesday on the Senate floor in an exchange between two Democrats - Barbara A. Mikulski of Maryland and Kirsten E. Gillibrand of New York.

Mrs. Gillibrand was presiding over the Senate when Ms. Mikulski took to the floor to plead for a shutdown to be averted. As is usual for the Senate, the chamber was nearly empty during general speeches, and Mrs. Gillibrand was working on a stack of papers and her BlackBerry, which is also common - if frowned upon - for senators given the tedious duty of presiding.

But Ms. Mikulski felt she was not being given due attention as she spoke on the consequences of a government shutdown. She stopped midspeech and called out Mrs. Gillibrand.

"Madam president, I - Hello? - Madam president?" Ms. Mikulski demanded. "Maybe, I don't know if my speech is not that attention-getting, but could I have your attention?"

After a few moments' pause, Mrs. Gillibrand calmly replied that Ms. Mikulski had used up her allotted floor speaking time.

"Well, then my time is up, but - look, maybe the Senate's not paying attention, but the American people are paying attention," Ms. Mikulski shot back. "And I'm telling you, this is a situation of enormous negative consequences."

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