Shutdown fudge factor may come into play

By Suzanne Kubota
Senior Internet Editor

Congressional leaders worked through the weekend on a spending measure for the remainder of the 2011 fiscal year. While Congress appears to be closer to an agreement, having already agreed to budget cuts around $30 billion, they can’t agree on where to make the cuts.

Erik Wasson, staff writer for the Hill newspaper, told Federal News Radio even professional Hill watchers aren’t willing to guess how the negotiations are going.

“It’s hard to tell how exactly far apart they are. I think a lot of Republicans are doing a lot of saber rattling. John Boehner met with the freshmen GOP members late in the week and basically told them ‘keep the pressure on. The more that you appear to be demanding cuts, the more leverage I have in these behind the closed door talks,’ so there are some frightening statements coming out of freshmen members, but it has to be sort of taken in the context of a negotiation and some saber rattling, I think.”

And if push really comes to shove, said Wasson, the self-imposed deadline for an agreement in the next day or so isn’t of the drop-dead variety.

“When it comes down to it, waiving the three day rule or a government shutdown, I would think that that rule might go by the wayside,” said Wasson. “On the other hand there could be a short 24-hour or 48-hour continuing resolution to allow them to go through the formalities at the end of the week. So that deadline can be fudged a bit, but I think the key thing is where these cuts are coming from.”

The GOP, said Wasson, wants the cuts to come from discretionary spending, while Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) said on ABC’s “This Week” that cuts could be found in CHIMPS, or “changes in mandatory program spending.”

While both sides remain at the table, negotiating funding for FY 2011, Wasson said “one of the interesting things that’s going to put a whole new wrinkle in this is that tomorrow, Paul Ryan, the House Budget Committee chairman, is going to unveil his 2012 budget proposal resolution and that one is going to call for significant changes to Medicaid and Medicare and look to cut about $4 trillion dollars in spending over a decade.” Wasson notes that could be enough to convince Republicans to save the fight for the bigger battle coming over the 2012 budget.

“I have a funny feeling we’ll be back in the same position in October and September when the new fiscal year starts,” said Wasson.

In the meantime, there are some immediate concerns for federal employees, said Wasson. “I talked to Darrell Issa (R-CA) late on Friday, the chairman of the House Oversight Committee and he’s been pushing this idea to extend the federal pay freeze into including step increases as well as just the annual cost of living increases. He said that will be included in the Ryan budget tomorrow, so that budget will call for making what he calls ‘a true pay freeze’ by sort of freezing step increases as well for two years at least.”

Asked if there are any other issues directly impacting federal employees coming in the FY 2012 proposal that Wasson could give listeners an early heads up about, he said there’s nothing yet. “They’re keeping it pretty close to the vest, unfortunately.”


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