Federal shutdown reprieve likely, but problem still lacks solution

A partial shutdown of the federal government may be averted for at least two weeks after the House passed a temporary spending bill Tuesday, but Congress and the White House still have to agree on $57 billion in budget cuts slashed by the House of Representatives last month.

The House bill cuts about $4 billion on spending across multiple agencies, and the White House said earlier this week it was open to this round of cuts. However, House leaders proposed slashing $61 billion in spending from the unapproved 2011 budget.

A continuing resolution, which was passed last month to keep the government running, is set to expire Friday. The 2011 federal budget has remained on the table for months, and was supposed to be law by Oct. 1, 2010.

A lack of federal funding could trigger the furlough of thousands of federal employees, force others to work without pay for a period of time and close national parks.

Eighth District Rep. Austin Scott, R-Ga., said through his office Tuesday the shutdown talk was a political maneuver on the part of the White House and the Democrats.

“The Democrat Party’s political strategy is to force a government shutdown and blame Republicans. However, when the Democrats had control of the House, Senate and White House, they chose not to even introduce a budget or pass a Continuing Resolution,” Scott wrote in response to a series of e-mailed questions. “Had they done their job, we wouldn’t even be having this discussion. Instead, we would already be working on the budget for fiscal year 2012.”

Late Tuesday afternoon, a bill was sent to the Senate to hash out a spending compromise that should avert the possibility of a federal shutdown.

“Sen. Chambliss is hopeful that the House and Senate will be able to pass a short term (continuing resolution) to avoid a government shutdown,” said Bronwyn Lance-Chester, a spokeswoman for Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga. “He also believes that Congress must act now to rein in the out-of-control federal spending that has increased in the past few years, and the total amount of spending cuts in the House (continuing resolution) provides a significant a step in the right direction.”

The measure could just be a two week reprieve, a University of Georgia political expert said Tuesday.

“This has to be dealt with,” said Robert Grafstein, a political science professor for 30 years. “It’s a very real possibility that the federal government will be shut down for a period of time. Is it grandstanding? Probably on both sides of Congress and the White House included. But, at this point, it is unclear to what extent the House majority can control the incoming new members, many of whom are pushing the cuts to the 2011 budget. The new members were elected on this promise of cutting federal spending, and that’s what they are girding for battle to accomplish.”

Over the last 30 years, there have been four major government funding gaps that required partial government shutdowns, according to the Congressional Research Service.

A partial shutdown means federal workers either are furloughed or required to work in essential jobs without pay for a period of time.

The last major federal shutdown came Dec. 16, 1995, when President Bill Clinton and the Republican controlled Congress could not agree on a federal budget for 1996.

That shutdown lasted 21 days, sending more than 284,000 government employees home on unpaid furloughs and forcing 475,000 essential employees to work without pay for weeks.

Although all were eventually paid when the budget was passed in April 1996, the shutdown rippled across the economy.

Robins Air Force Base workers were exempt from that shutdown because the defense budget had been passed earlier that year. However, several hundred other federal workers locally were not.

Workers will not go without pay. When the budget is enacted, pay becomes retroactive, Grafstein said.

“It’s just bad news for the economy in the meantime. That’s the difference right now,” Grafstein said. “This economy is not the economy of 1995 or 1996. There was larger growth and lower unemployment. Taking federal dollars out of the economy right now is really not that great of an idea.

“In the long run will this political strategy work when they close the Washington Monument and send workers home without pay? It may not. They could be in the same boat in 2012 that their defeated opponents were last November.”

Information from Telegraph archives and wire services was used in this report. To contact writer Shelby G. Spires, call 744-4494.