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GOP, Democrats Blink on Budget, Government Shutdown

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Both Republicans and Democrats on Sunday blinked—for the moment—about the possibility of shutting down the government over a pitched budget battle. The continuing resolution currently funding the government expires on Friday, March 4.

Talk has been running high about the possibility of a shutdown over the cuts included in the House-passed budget, with both Democrats and Republicans saying that the other side would be to blame if an impasse was reached. But something shifted Sunday and both sides instead backed away from the brink.

Shutdown talk had begun seriously on Feb. 17 when Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, said, "When we say we are going to cut spending, read my lips: We are going to cut spending." Earlier in the week, he had said that budget cuts could cost federal jobs, adding, “So be it.” And the largely party-line vote on the House-passed budget included cuts that Democrats termed draconian, slashing everything from block grants to public programs to the arts; they called it a non-starter. As the budget moved toward the Senate, language ramped up and it seemed that both sides were determined not to budge.

Reuters reported Sunday that the language became more conciliatory. At a religious broadcasters’ convention, Boehner characterized the need to address the deficit as “a moral responsibility,” but also said, "That means working together to cut spending and rein in government—not shutting it down." He added, "This is very simple: Americans want the government to stay open, and they want it to spend less money. We don't need to shut down the government to accomplish that."

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Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., the top Democrat on the House Budget Committee, said in a Sunday interview on C-SPAN, "We're very focused on trying to avoid a shutdown." Saying that he was “cautiously optimistic” that a shutdown would be avoided, he added, “That doesn’t mean we won’t be right back here three weeks from now.”

On Friday House Republicans revealed a two-week stopgap measure with $4 billion in spending cuts that Senate Democrats said might be acceptable. Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, said on CNN’s State of the Union, “This two-week business is not the way to go,” and added, “. . . to ultimately solve this problem we’re going to have to do much more.”

While it is not yet clear whether Boehner will be able to restrain Tea Party hard-liners from demanding the $61 billion in cuts that are in the original House-passed budget, he may have to. Investment firm Goldman Sachs has said that budget, as it stands, will harm the recovery, significantly slowing growth in the second and third quarters, and Democrats have criticized the cuts that they say will gut social and environmental programs.