Shutdown averted after furious push, with deal for $39b in cuts

GOP relents on including cut of Planned Parenthood funds; plan must still be approved by rank and file in Congress

House Speaker John Boehner said failure would not end the talks and marathon sessions would continue in the weekend. House Speaker John Boehner said failure would not end the talks and marathon sessions would continue in the weekend. (J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press)
By Theo Emery
Globe Staff / April 9, 2011

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WASHINGTON — Congressional leaders agreed to an 11th-hour tentative deal late last night on about $39 billion in budget cuts, a breakthrough that represents the largest retrenchment in spending in American history and spotlights the Tea Party movement’s strength beyond the Republican Party.

The agreement followed weeks of partisan finger-pointing, a series of stopgap spending resolutions to keep the government afloat, and days of round-the-clock negotiations. House Speaker John Boehner, Republican of Ohio, and Senate majority leader Harry Reid, Democrat of Nevada, signed off on it about an hour before the government would have run out of money, throwing about 800,000 federal employees out of work temporarily.

“It has not been an easy process,’’ Reid said. “Both sides have had to make tough choices. This is historic what we’ve done.’’

As the deal was confirmed, Reid and Boehner rushed a six-day spending measure to the floors of the Senate and House to halt the shutdown and buy members time to digest, debate, and vote on the agreement. Both chambers passed the stopgap bill, with the House finishing voting in the early morning.

To reach the level of cuts in the deal, Republicans backed down from their insistence that the government halt funding for Planned Parenthood. A Senate aide said the bill would ban funding for abortion in the District of Columbia, but Congress would vote separately on whether to halt funding for Planned Parenthood.

That vote was expected to fail.

The legislation also would not contain provisions blocking regulation of greenhouse gases, another obstacle in the process, the aide said.

For Boehner, the deal represented the best Republicans could get.

“We fought to keep government spending down,’’ Boehner said.

President Obama said Americans had to begin to live within their means.

“Programs people rely on will be cut back,’’ he said. “Needed infrastructure projects will be delayed.’’

It was unclear, however, whether the agreement would cut deeply enough for conservative Republicans or would do enough to protect domestic programs for liberal Democrats.

One Republican said he would need to be convinced.

“I have to wait to hear what it is, but $39 billion is not what we pledged to do,’’ said Representative Louis Gohmert, a Texas Republican who has strong support from the Tea Party. “I’d have to hear something special to make up for what we pledged to do.’’

House Republicans, pushed by members such as Gohmert, had sought $61 billion in cuts for the bill, which would fund government operations through September. Democrats had agreed to about $10 billion in cuts as of early this week.

The deal only covers discretionary domestic spending — about 12 percent of the overall budget. And even as congressional leaders celebrated the deal, analysts cautioned that it represents just the first round in a long-term fight over spending and priorities.

On the horizon are titanic tilts over raising the nation’s debt limit — the primary battlefield for Tea Party movement conservatives — and tackling entitlement programs such as Medicare and Medicaid.

“This is the easiest thing,’’ Dennis Hale, a political science professor at Boston College, said. “The bigger battle now is going to be over the 2012 budget and beyond that the question of entitlements.

“That’s going to be the most interesting part.’’

The president, who pushed hard in the last week to get a deal and hosted three meetings at the White House in two days, could stand to benefit the most from the agreement, said Garrison Nelson, a political science professor at the University of Vermont.

“Because Obama has been seen in recent days as trying to work out a compromise to keep these two parties at least talking to one another, he [would have been] hurt by the shutdown,’’ Nelson said.

Late last night, the president praised the negotiators, saying the deal only came about because “Americans of different beliefs came together.’’

The budget struggle illustrates the power of the ascendant Tea Party faction in the House, analysts said.

“The problem that Boehner faces is that he’s got this rump group of Tea Party people, and most of whom owe their election to the Tea Party, and they are bound and determined to make sure that Boehner doesn’t waffle or compromise,’’ Nelson said. “Boehner — who’s temperamentally inclined to compromise — can’t because Republicans have an unfortunately tendency to get rid of their leaders.’’

Had negotiators failed, a shutdown would have started last night, closing national parks, halting some environmental monitoring, and slowing some tax refunds. Those services deemed essential, such as air traffic control, most operations of the Homeland Security Department, and military operations would have continued.

A shutdown is still possible if the deal is rejected next week.

Federal agencies yesterday provided the most complete picture yet of what residents in Massachusetts and across the country could expect in such a shutdown. Processing of passports and such items as new Medicare cards would be halted; classes on starting small businesses would be canceled. Parks and campgrounds would be closed.

If a member of military dies in the line of duty, the family would not receive the standard $100,000 payment until the government reopens.

As negotiators dug in at the Capitol yesterday, a group of young men and women in jeans and sneakers organized themselves on the lawn on the House side. They handed out enormous cardboard placards, each with a digit written in magic marker in the middle. After several minutes of confused milling around, they arranged themselves side by side into the size of the federal debt that morning: $14,280,445,995,761.

“I don’t want the government to shut down. I just want them to pass a balanced budget where we don’t go any deeper into debt,’’ said Cuylor Reeves, 22, of Starkville, Miss.

Material from the Associated Press was included in this report. Theo Emery can be reached at