Time's about up: Shutdown looms without agreement

By Ben Feller

Associated Press

Published: Friday, April 8 2011 12:00 a.m. MDT

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nev. is seen on Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday, April 8, 2011, where he met with reporters to discuss the budget impasse.

J. Scott Applewhite, Associated Press

WASHINGTON — On the brink of a painful government shutdown, the Obama administration readied furlough notices for hundreds of thousands of workers Friday as Republican and Democratic leaders accused each other of refusing to give ground on a deal to keep operations running.

By midday Friday, most employees of the federal workforce had been told whether they had been deemed essential or would be temporarily laid off from work if lawmakers failed to reach an agreement by midnight. In the event of a shutdown, official furlough notices would begin going out by email, by written letter or in person.

Many workers would be allowed into their offices for up to four hours on Monday to finish tasks, but that would be it.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid accused the Republicans of blocking a compromise because they were determined to make it harder "for women to get cancer screenings." That was a reference to money for Planned Parenthood, an organization Republicans assail as the country's largest provider of abortions.

Reid's main antagonist in the long-running negotiations, House Speaker John Boehner, said spending cuts — not social issues — were blocking agreement to prevent a shutdown.

"Most of the policy issues have been dealt with, and the big fight is about spending," Boehner said Friday afternoon.

Barring an agreement or perhaps another temporary bill to keep the government operating, the shutdown of most of the government would begin at midnight. Many essential workers, such as mail carriers, air traffic controllers and the military, would stay on the job, but national parks would close and pay for troops and other workers could be delayed.

With the shutdown clock ticking, President Barack Obama canceled a trip to Indianapolis and spoke in separate phone calls with Reid and Boehner.

"I assure you, these are not unresolvable issues," said Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

Obama, Reid and Boehner met at the White House Thursday night for the third time in two days, and their aides struggled without success to reach agreement in middle-of-the-night talks in the Capitol.

Republicans have been seeking $40 billion in cuts, as well as several other provisions to advance the conservative agenda backed by a rank and file that includes dozens of first-termers elected with the support of tea party activists.

Reid said the two sides had reached agreement on $38 billion in spending cuts and the only hang-up was a Republican demand to cut a federal program that provides women's health and family planning services.

"They are willing to throw women under the bus, even if it means they'll shut down the government," he said. "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."

But Boehner said there was "only one reason that we do not have an agreement as yet, and that issue is spending."

"When will the White House and when will Senate Democrats get serious about cutting federal spending?" he asked.

Boehner urged Obama to reconsider a veto threat against legislation to keep the government open for one additional week while negotiators continue working on a deal to fund federal programs through Sept. 30.

The short-term measure includes $12 billion in spending cuts and would provide enough funds to keep the Pentagon in operation through Sept. 30.

Obama said ominously on Friday night that the machinery of a shutdown was already in motion.

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