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'Historic' deal reached to avoid shutdown

Friday, April 8, 2011 ~ Updated 11:20 PM

Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, center, speaks as he stands with Majority Leader Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va., left, and Rep. Cathy McMorris Rogers, R-Wash., on Capitol Hill Friday, April 8, 2011 in Washington. Perilously close to a midnight deadline, the White House and congressional leaders have reached agreement to cut billions of dollars in spending to avoid the first government shutdown in 15 years.
(AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Perilously close to a government shutdown, President Barack Obama and congressional leaders reached a historic agreement late Friday night to cut about $38 billion in federal spending and avert the first federal closure in 15 years.

Obama hailed the deal as "the biggest annual spending cut in history." House Speaker John Boehner said that over the next decade it would cut government spending by $500 billion, and won an ovation from his rank and file --tea party adherents among them.

"This is historic, what we've done," agreed Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., the third man involved in negotiations that ratified a new era of divided government.

They announced the agreement less than an hour before government funding was due to run out. The shutdown would have closed national parks, tax-season help lines and other popular services, though the military would have stayed on duty and other essential efforts such as air traffic control would have continued in effect.

On side issues -- "riders," the negotiators called them -- the Democrats and the White House rebuffed numerous Republican attempts to curtail the reach of the Environmental Protection Agency and sidetracked their demand to deny federal funds to Planned Parenthood.

Anti-abortion lawmakers succeeded in winning a provision to ban the use of federal or local government funds to pay for abortions in the District of Columbia.

Lawmakers raced to pass an interim measure to prevent a shutdown, however brief, and keep the federal machinery running for the next several days. The Senate acted within minutes. The House worked past midnight, so the federal government was to be technically unfunded for a short period of time, but there would be little -- if any -- practical impact

The deal came together after six grueling weeks and an outbreak of budget brinksmanship over the past few days as the two sides sought to squeeze every drop of advantage in private talks.

"We know the whole world is watching us today," Reid said earlier in a day that produced incendiary, campaign style rhetoric as well as intense negotiation.

Reid, Obama and Boehner all agreed a shutdown posed risks to an economy still recovering from the worst recession in decades.

But there were disagreements aplenty among the principal players in an early test of divided government -- Obama in the White House, fellow Democrats in control in the Senate and a new, tea party-flavored Republican majority in the House.

"Republican leaders in the House have only a few hours left to look in the mirror, snap out of it and realize how positively shameful that would be," Reid said at one point, accusing Republicans of risking a shutdown to pursue a radical social agenda.

For much of the day, Reid and Boehner disagreed about what the disagreement was about.

Reid said there had been an agreement at a White House meeting Thursday night to cut spending by about $38 billion. He said Republicans also were demanding unspecified cuts in health services for lower income women that were unacceptable to Democrats. "Republicans want to shut down our nation's government because they want to make it harder to get cancer screenings," he said. "They want to throw women under the bus."

Boehner said repeatedly that wasn't the case -- it was spending cuts that divided two sides.

"Most of the policy issues have been dealt with, and the big fight is about spending," he said. "When will the White House and when will Senate Democrats get serious about cutting federal spending."

By midday Friday, 12 hours before the funding would run out, most federal employees had been told whether they had been deemed essential or would be temporarily laid off in the event of a shutdown.

Obama canceled a scheduled Friday trip to Indianapolis -- and a weekend family visit to Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia -- and kept in touch with both Boehner and Reid.

The standoff began several weeks ago, when the new Republican majority in the House passed legislation to cut $61 billion from federal spending and place numerous curbs on the government.

In the weeks since, the two sides have alternately negotiated and taken time out to pass interim measures.

Originally, Republicans wanted to ban federal funds for Planned Parenthood, a health care services provider that is also the nation's largest provider of abortions.

Federal funds may not be used to pay for abortions except in strictly regulated cases, but supporters of the ban said cutting off government funds for the organization -- currently about $330 million a year -- would make it harder for it to use its own money for the same purpose.

Democrats rejected the proposal in private talks. Officials in both parties said Republicans returned earlier in the week with a proposal to distribute federal funds for family planning and related health services to the states, rather than directly to Planned Parenthood and other organizations.

Democrats said they rejected that proposal, as well, and then refused to agree to allow a separate Senate vote on the issue as part of debate over any compromise bill.

Instead, they launched a sustained campaign at both ends of the Capitol to criticize Republicans.

"We'll not allow them to use women as pawns," said Sen. Patty Murray, a fourth-term lawmaker from Washington who doubles as head of the Democratic senatorial campaign committee.

For Congress and Obama there are even tougher struggles still ahead -- over a Republican budget that would remake entire federal programs, and a vote to raise the nation's debt limit.


Associated Press writers Donna Cassata, Andrew Taylor, Alan Fram, Julie Pace and Ben Feller contributed to this story.

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"This is historic, what we've done," agreed Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev

If it was historic then why did he fight it tooth and nail?

-- Posted by Mowrangler on Sat, Apr 9, 2011, at 5:52 AM

Idiotic posturing!

-- Posted by vietnamvet on Sat, Apr 9, 2011, at 7:07 AM

This is just the beginning wait until they get in to the 2012/2013 budget where you deal with trillions.

-- Posted by swampeastmissouri on Sat, Apr 9, 2011, at 7:13 AM

Government money should not go toward killing babies.

-- Posted by Make no mistake about it on Sat, Apr 9, 2011, at 7:21 AM

Disappointing, but field trips to Washington are essential government responsibilities.

I can't believe Claire McCaskill and fellow Democrats (with control of House, Senate, and Presidency) put Planned Parenthood in such a tenuous position by not passing a budget in 2010 for FY 2011.

In 2012, whoever runs against her should point out her failure to act responsibly about this.

-- Posted by nolimitsonthought on Sat, Apr 9, 2011, at 8:26 AM

Here's something that we can all agree on - there is no such thing as a good government.

-- Posted by Lumpy on Sat, Apr 9, 2011, at 8:48 AM

$38 billion - you have got to be kidding! The wimpy Republicans can't even keep their lame campaign promise to return the deficit back to the "good old days" of 2008! Speaking of promises, I expect all the tea partiers to keep their collective promise, and stop supporting the GOP.

-- Posted by Lumpy on Sat, Apr 9, 2011, at 8:48 AM

This is the same as my wife saying to me one morning that the family is drowning in debt, the bank is calling, and we have no savings. Then I reply, "No problem. I will stop buying USA Today on Wednesdays".

-- Posted by Lumpy on Sat, Apr 9, 2011, at 8:52 AM

Term limits for everyone in DC

-- Posted by mogearjammer on Sat, Apr 9, 2011, at 9:50 AM

Historic my butt! Boehner has got to go! China owns us, we are now fighting three wars and we are drowning in debt. Bring the troops home, put them on the Mexican border and to hell with everyone else.

-- Posted by mobushwhacker on Sat, Apr 9, 2011, at 10:26 AM

I'm glad the Democrats came to their senses. Since the Demorcats didn't even propose a budget for 2011, they have no room to say anything. Republicans are trying to cut the budget, and the Demorcats want to keep spending. Wopleait for the Democrats to start crying about all the social entitlements that Republicans want to cut in 2012, since these are Obama supporters, expect the President to cry foul for his shiftless and lazy welfare supporters.

-- Posted by TheArmySarge on Sat, Apr 9, 2011, at 2:27 PM

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