Federal employees protest a potential government shutdown outside the Metcalfe Federal Building in Chicago. Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images.
The stakes at this point are crystal clear.
When the clock strikes midnight Friday the federal government will run out of money and all non-essential operations will grind to a halt unless Democratic and Republican negotiators are finally able to resolve the differences over spending cuts and policy provisions that have divided them for weeks.
At daybreak Friday the two sides were reportedly still wrangling over $5 billion in cuts and proposals that would curb federal funding for Planned Parenthood and restrict the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.
The administration announced late Thursday that President Obama had canceled a Friday visit to Indiana and will instead attend meetings at the White House.
Those meetings will almost certainly include House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., who have made four trips down Pennsylvania Avenue in the past three days and released a joint statement after their latest visit Thursday night saying they had “narrowed the issues.” The two lawmakers also pledged to work through the night to resolve their remaining differences.
The president, in another late night visit to the White House briefing room, said additional progress had been made but acknowledged “a few issues” were standing in the way of a final deal.
“They’re difficult issues. They’re important to both sides,” President Obama said. “I’m not yet prepared to express wild optimism. But I think we are further along today than we were yesterday.”
With a shutdown now just hours away, the president said the “machinery of the shutdown is necessarily starting to move.” He said he told Rep. Boehner and Sen. Reid that he expected an answer from them by early Friday so that the American people would get the news that a shutdown had been averted before the day got too far along.
But even if a deal is completed by midday Friday, lawmakers will face an uphill battle preventing at least a temporary shutdown. Congress is not an institution known for its alacrity, so getting the House and Senate to act on legislation in a matter of hours seems unlikely.
That leaves lawmakers with the two options: allowing a shutdown for the weekend and passing the agreement sometime in the next day or two so that by Monday government operations are running as usual; or approving a short-term (48- or 72-hour) stopgap that would prevent a shutdown and ease the pressure on members to rush the final deal through the Congress.
House Republicans passed a one-week spending bill Thursday that would cut $12 billion from current levels and fund the Department of Defense for the rest of the fiscal year. It also included a policy “rider” that would restrict funding for abortions in the District of Columbia.
Prior to the vote, the administration released a statement saying the president would veto the legislation.
While House Democrats accused their GOP colleagues of using the bill as a way to seek political cover in the event of a shutdown, Senate Democrats made preparations to bring the House legislation to the floor along with a “clean” version of the bill that would not include any controversial provisions.
Democrats could pass that measure and send it back to the House in an attempt to shift the pressure (and blame) for a government shutdown back on the Republicans.
The reality is there will be plenty of blame to go around if lawmakers are unable to fulfill the basic responsibility of funding the government.
WISCONSIN VOTE TALLY
The razor thin lead held by labor-backed JoAnne Kloppenburg has evaporated in a dramatic turn of events in the battle for a Wisconsin state Supreme Court seat, which has been widely viewed as a referendum on Gov. Scott Walker’s push to end collective bargaining rights for most public sector employees.
Waukesha County Clerk Kathy Nickolaus announced Thursday afternoon that roughly 14,000 votes went untallied in her Republican-leaning county due to human error.
After those votes were added to the totals, incumbent Justice David Prosser emerged with a net gain of 7.582 votes, propelling him into the most significant lead held by either candidate since election night.
Prior to the error in Waukesha County, Kloppenburg had already declared victory despite the real possibility of a recount.
There’s little doubt that the high profile battle between Gov. Walker, a Republican, and public union employees and their Democratic allies has gone a long way to awaken, motivate and mobilize Democrats in Wisconsin. Outside groups poured money into the usually sleepy state Supreme Court election, portraying it as a continuation of the protests seen in Madison in February.
However, it appears Kloppenburg and the liberal groups supporting her may have declared victory prematurely.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg recognized the error of his ways. Admitting fault is not usually a quality often associated with the billionaire mayor, but after a tortured 95-day tenure, he forced his handpicked schools chancellor, former magazine publisher Cathie Black, to resign.
Mayor Bloomberg appointed one of his deputies, Dennis Walcott, who has worked on education issues at City Hall for years, as Black’s replacement.
From the moment Bloomberg announced his decision to appoint Black, who had never worked in the education arena, she was engulfed in controversy.
“[The speed with which Mr. Bloomberg [abandoned his education chief](http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/08/nyregion/08bloomberg.html) underscored what is his most embarrassing reversal yet, and magnified the image of his third term — which was made possible only because he helped overturn a term-limits law — as an episodic drama of debacles large and small,” writes David Halbfinger of the New York Times.
Mayor Bloomberg has the money, time and patience to rehabilitate before his time at City Hall is done, but third terms in New York (Mario Cuomo, Ed Koch, George Pataki) tend to be less than stellar affairs.
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