Can The Government Stay Open? Maybe
WASHINGTON, D.C. (CBS NEWS) – As federal workers grew increasingly anxious about a shutdown, leaders in Congress were working around the clock to blame the other side, holding accusatory press conferences all day long.
“This close to a deadline, shouldn’t you be in the room together trying to come to an agreement?” CBS News Congressional correspondent Nancy Cordes asked Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
“Don’t I wish,” Reid said.
“Why aren’t you?” Cordes asked.
“All we need for them to say is the agreement that we made last night will be fulfilled,” Reid said after an awkward pause.
Republicans say the main hang-up now is the size and makeup of the cuts to this year’s $3.83-trillion budget.
“We’re not going to roll over and sell out the American people like it’s been done time and time again in Washington,” Speaker of the House John Boehner said.
But Democrats insist the two sides have already settled on $38 billion in cuts, and that the entire fight has come down to Republican opposition to federal funding for family planning and women’s health care.
“I can’t believe that we are sitting here today about to shut down the government over contraceptive pills, because that’s what it’s all about,” said Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif.
Republicans want to scrap about $300 million in federal grants that go to 4,500 different clinics around the country, about a quarter of them run by Planned Parenthood, which does perform abortions, though, without federal dollars.=
Late Friday afternoon, the GOP appeared to back down in the face of a lashing from female Democrats.
“It is an opportunity for the right wing in the House to really sock it to women,” Sen. Barbara Feinstein, D-Calif.
As lawmakers bickered, their inability to fund the government monopolized headlines from coast to coast.
Four-hundred-thousand civilian employees at the Department of Defense were told they might have to stay home without pay.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates tried to find humor in a grim situation.
“You know how things are in Washington when you’d rather be in Iraq,” Gates said.
CBS News correspondents around the country found that even the threat of a shutdown was disrupting commerce:
Don Teague in Dallas: It’s the eve of the busy spring home-buying season in Texas. A shutdown could not come at a worse time because the Federal Housing Administration would stop processing loan applications, nationwide putting up to 35,000 deals on ice per week. Mortgage lenders will also unable to verify borrower tax returns and income through the IRS. Atlanta-based Suntrust Bank is among the lenders urging processors to finish up current mortgage applications before it’s too late.
Dan Boyce in Bozeman, Mont., the gateway for the 3 million tourists that visit Yellowstone National Park every year: The tiny village of Gardiner has waited all winter for Yellowstone to open. Businesses are totally dependent on park visitors. A long shutdown would be catastrophic. “I don’t think we can go a week or two without seeing a serious effect,” one businesswoman said.
Terry McCarthy in San Clemente, Calif. outside Camp Pendleton, home to 42,000 Marines: Military families here worry a long shutdown will stop them from getting their paychecks. Erika Thompson’s husband is with the Marines in Afghanistan. “It makes them think – I am doing all this and my family back home is having to struggle. It’s very upsetting,” Thompson said. Many here live paycheck to paycheck. Any disruption would hit hard.
No wonder voters at a town hall in Alexandria, Va., concluded the blame rests with both parties.
“You said you’re ready to work this weekend. Did you work last weekend? Where was Congress last weekend? Why is everything now in the eleventh hour?” asked one angry attendee.
There was a rush on passport offices Friday because there’s a strong change they’ll be closed Saturday – which, believe it or not – has been designated National Passport Office Day, but that’s been canceled.
Friday evening, lawmakers were working on a simple, short-term spending measure that would keep the government open for a few more days. And that’s a good sign because it’s something they said they would only agree to if an overall deal was within arm’s reach.
Rep. Kay Granger (R-Fort Worth) spoke with 1080 KRLD