Sat, Apr 09, 2011 - Page 1 News List

Clock is running down for Obama as a shutdown of US government looms

CRUNCHTIME:If last-ditch efforts to find a compromise on the budget by midnight fail, about 800,000 federal employees will be laid off and soldiers won’t be paid

AFP, WASHINGTON

The clock was ticking yesterday for Republicans and Democrats to come up with a deal to avert a US federal government shutdown at midnight yesterday after US President Barack Obama failed to resolve the impasse.

With Obama’s order ringing in their ears, negotiators from both sides worked through a second straight night in search of a spending plan to fund the federal government for the rest of the fiscal year that ends on Sept. 30 — to be approved by the US Senate and the US House of Representatives.

Obama’s second consecutive late-night summit with Republican House Speaker John Boehner and Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid failed to clinch a deal in a budget row that has turned into a tussle for political primacy in divided Washington.

The president showed a glint of optimism that negotiations could be wrapped up yesterday, allowing him to put the machinery already beginning to shutter the vast federal bureaucracy into reverse.

“My hope is that I will be able to announce to the American people sometime relatively early in the day that a shutdown has been averted, that a deal has been completed,” Obama said.

However, the president cautioned he was not yet “wildly optimistic.”

Should last-ditch efforts fail, about 800,000 federal employees would be temporarily laid off, frontline combat soldiers would miss paychecks and even the BlackBerry smartphones of government officials would go dark.

However, deep political uncertainty is clouding the endgame of the crisis even if a deal is reached, with Boehner in an especially precarious political position.

The speaker would have to sell the agreement to ultra--conservative members of his coalition, elected on a Tea Party platform of massive spending cuts and outright confrontation with the Democratic president.

“The remaining issues are -extremely, extremely narrow,” Reid said after returning from Thursday’s late-night talks at the White House. “I’m not really confident, but I’m very, very hopeful.”

Boehner joined Reid in a statement saying “we have narrowed the issues” and vowing to “continue to work through the night to attempt to resolve our remaining differences.”

After the meeting, Obama canceled a planned trip to Indiana to stay in Washington and see the final push to the end.

Reflecting his own party’s hard line on spending, Boehner said earlier that “we each have policy provisions we feel strongly about. We have spending that we feel strongly about.”

Republicans disputed Democratic claims that a breakthrough — needed to avert the shutdown — had stalled on anti-abortion measures attached to a spending blueprint passed by the House six weeks ago.

The White House declined to detail remaining issues, but Obama has said he would not back down on Republican attempts to curtail spending on education, environmental rules and medical procedures.

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