The federal government will begin shutting down Friday at midnight unless Congress comes up with a stopgap funding measure to replace the current continuing resolution that's about to expire. At issue are some $60 billion in spending cuts, approved by the GOP-led House and deemed too deep by the Democratic-led Senate.
As lawmakers return Monday from recess, they'll try to pass an even shorter-term measure. The idea is to buy time to negotiate — and to avert a shutdown.
The continuing resolution that House Republicans passed eight days ago ended up with nearly twice the spending cuts that GOP leaders had initially proposed; by doubling down, Republicans pleased their conservative base.
But House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland deemed their bill entirely unrealistic.
"I think that the United States Senate is not going to pass this bill," Hoyer said. "I don't think, frankly, any House Republican believes the United States Senate's gonna pass this bill."
Those nonbelievers seem to include House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio. Before leaving town, Boehner acknowledged things were at an impasse with the Senate. He said that a temporary continuing resolution would be needed to keep the government from shutting down.
"But I am not going to move any kind of short-term CR at current levels," he said. "When we say we're going to cut spending, read my lips, we're going to cut spending."
Boehner says he does not want a shutdown — after all, Republicans got blamed for the last one 15 years ago. But in a conference call last week with reporters, New York Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer suggested that Boehner can't control his GOP caucus.
"He is under intense pressure from the right wing, both outside Washington and inside his caucus," said Schumer, "and he's being misled and pushed around by his conservative freshmen, who don't remember what happened in 1995 and not only don't fear a government shutdown, but they actually say they welcome one."
Still, prospects for at least a short-term extension of federal funding seemed to have improved. House Republicans proposed extending most current funding for another two weeks, while at the same time cutting $4 billion in scheduled spending during that period.
The cuts include funds for earmarks that Congress has agreed not to do this year and for several programs the Obama administration deemed no longer necessary.
Senate Democrats appear ready to agree to such an extension. That leaves the possibility of a shutdown March 18 if the standoff continues over funding for the rest of the year.