Democrats said Boehner was being whipsawed by tea party hard-liners demanding the full roster of cuts and policy riders. But at the same time, Boehner didn't try to squelch such talk and seemed to be playing the tea partiers against the Senate Democrats to win more spending cuts.
"We used every tool we had," said a chuckling GOP leadership aide, who required anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.
The government shutdown that so many feared was headed off just in time and the House and Senate quickly passed an emergency measure to keep the government open until Friday in order to give lawmakers time to draft the measure and advance it through the House and Senate.
As a result, about 800,000 federal workers avoided furloughs while national parks and Washington's tourist attractions remained open Saturday. Obama made a surprise visit to the Lincoln Memorial Saturday afternoon, to the delight of tourists at the monument.
"Because Congress was able to settle its differences ... this place is open today," Obama said. "And that's the kind of future cooperation I hope we have going forward."
Obama was referring to upcoming, and far bigger, battles over cutting the budget further and advancing must-pass legislation this summer to permit the government to borrow more money to meet its obligations. The so-called debt limit battle is freighted with politics, especially for tea partiers, and there's a widespread expectation that Obama is going to have to accept significantly more in spending cuts in that upcoming round.
There are few details available regarding the pending appropriations bill, which would fund the day-to-day operating budgets of federal agencies through the Sept. 30 end of the budget year. It's still being put in legislative form.
But aides did say that the measure avoids outright cuts to the IRS, though Obama's hoped-for increases were denied. Cuts to Pell Grants for college students from low-income families were restored, as were cuts to health research and Obama's "Race to the Top" initiative that provides grants to better-performing schools. Large cuts to foreign aid were tamed.
Anti-abortion lawmakers did succeed in winning a provision to block taxpayer-funded abortions in the District of Columbia. And Boehner won funding for a personal initiative to provide federally funded vouchers for District of Columbia students to attend private schools.
Some $18 billion of the spending cuts involve cuts to so-called mandatory programs whose budgets run largely on autopilot. To the dismay of budget purists, these cuts often involve phantom savings allowed under the decidedly arcane rules of congressional budgeting. They include mopping up $2.5 billion in unused money from federal highway programs and $5 billion in fudged savings from capping payments from a Justice Department trust fund for crime victims
Both ideas officially "score" as savings that could be used to pay for spending elsewhere in the day-to-day budgets of domestic agencies. But they have little impact, if any, on the deficit.
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