Congress may produce a surprise late Monday: a compromise that will keep the government running past Friday. While nothing is certain yet, a proposal is expected to be ready later in the day for a measure that will allow the government to keep running even as larger battles are fought over the expiration of a payroll tax cut and the question of whether to extend unemployment benefits.
The Washington Post reported that appropriators have been working apart from the public fights over such issues in an attempt to reach a bipartisan compromise on allocations of funding already approved in the August debt agreement. At issue is how some nearly $1 trillion should be spent—money that has to be divided up among several federal agencies.
Very public standoffs over many appropriations issues over the past months, with sizeable numbers of Republicans voting against any brokered agreement, have forced negotiators to realize that any bill to reach passage will require Republicans to seek the support of Democrats, since they cannot count on members of their own party to approve anything that does not include tremendous cuts in spending.
Currently functioning under an agreement reached last month that laid out spending for the departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Housing and Urban Development, Justice and Transportation through next August, the government once again faces shutdown if an agreement is not reached by the time funding expires on Friday. The deal presently in the works focuses on the 75% of government not allocated in the November bill, including war spending and funding for the Department of Defense.
Also at issue are Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education spending, as well as funding for the Interior Department and other environmental agencies. These areas are potentially the most contentious, containing as they do implications for the health care law and environmental regulations. However, according to aides with knowledge of the negotiations, progress has been made.
In the current atmosphere, no deal is certain, but negotiators have been working relatively undisturbed amid public fights on other issues, and the hope is that, according to Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, D-Hawaii, “reasonable people are able to reach reasonable agreements.” If the effort fails, Congress may very well be faced with celebrating the holidays while in session.