President Obama signed into law on Saturday a provision that will keep the federal government running through most of next week — long enough for congressional leaders to put the finishing touches on a budget compromise that will keep the federal government funded for the remainder of the fiscal year.
Obama’s promise to sign the agreement was critical to averting a government shutdown at midnight Friday. Just before 11 p.m., House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) announced that a last-minute deal had been struck that would keep the government in operation.
On Saturday in the District, the Washington Monument opened as scheduled and the Cherry Blossom Festival went on as scheduled, as federal employees got word that they were to resume their normal working hours Monday. Lawmakers and staffers who had been working around the clock to break through the stalemate left the Capitol deserted.
Many pondered the long-term impact of the fight, which exposed the depth of the discord in Washington and offered a hint of the difficulties lawmakers are likely to face as they address other fiscal issues in the coming months. Under the agreement, the current federal budget will be reduced by about $38 billion.
“While I’m glad the parties got together on a budget, I think I share the same question most Americans have: Why did it take so long?” Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said in a statement. “These conversations could have and should have happened weeks ago, rather than putting hundreds of thousands of Americans’ paychecks at risk.”
Democrats praised their leaders for standing firm against a Republican proposal to cut off federal funding to Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion provider, which also provides other general health services to millions of low-income women.
“I congratulate both Democrats and Republicans for coming together and agreeing on a budget compromise,” Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) said in a statement.
But some liberals lamented that the agreement revoked the ability of D.C. officials to use local funds to pay for abortions, and said the party went too far.
“This feels an awful lot like the tax cut deal,” Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) tweeted late Friday. “I gotta bad feeling.”
Abortion foes promised to continue to lobby Congress to withhold federal funding for Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion provider. The agreement also displeased some Tea Party politicians who had called for more drastic cuts, and who will likely oppose the upcoming effort to lift the debt ceiling – a battle that could also paralyze parts of the government.
“The deal that was reached tonight is a disappointment for me and for millions of Americans who expected $100 billion in cuts, who wanted to make sure their tax dollars stopped flowing to the nation’s largest abortion provider, and who wanted us to defund ObamaCare,” Rep. Michelle Bachmann (R-Minn.) said in a statement.
Friday night, however, the key negotiators -- President Obama, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) -- praised the agreement as a hard-fought compromise that acknowledges the nation’s economic realities and prevents the damaging consequences of a government shutdown.
“I’m pleased that Senator Reid and I and the White House have been able to come to an agreement that will, in fact, cut spending and keep our government open,” Boehner said at an impromptu news conference around 11 p.m.
Shortly after, President Obama read a statement from the White House, pointing out that the Washington Monument, seen lit up over his shoulder, would be open as usual on Saturday.
“Today, Americans of different beliefs came together,” Obama said. He said the cuts would be painful but necessary to maintain the country’s fiscal health. “We protected the investments we need to win the future.”
That Obama has signed another stopgap measure, one that will hold until Thursday, hints at the frenzied atmosphere Friday night as negotiators scrambled to overcome a months-long stalemate between Democrats and Republicans over the 2011 federal budget.
Short for time as midnight approached, the White House issued a memo late Friday promising within 24 hours to sign a one-week spending measure approved overnight by both chambers of Congress. A final agreement to keep the government funded through the end of the fiscal year should be approved this week.
If the government had closed, it would have meant the shuttering of national parks and federal agencies, a halt to trash pickup in the District, and furloughs for more than 800,000 governments workers. Just preparing for that had slowed federal business to a crawl in the last week.
Now, officials said, Washington should continue as if nothing happened.