One week away: Clock ticks on government shutdown

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) (L) and House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) (R) during a news conference at the U.S. Capitol on March 2, 2011.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) (L) and House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) (R) during a news conference at the U.S. Capitol on March 2, 2011.

If Congress does not act, the federal government shuts down one week from today.

The possibility of that threat becoming reality, which could furlough hundreds of thousands of federal employees, remained unclear Friday as House and Senate appropriators worked behind the scenes to find an agreement on cutting spending and keeping the government running.

Speaker John Boehner addressed reporters for the fourth day in a row, saying negotiators are still deadlocked.

"There is no number and no agreement on a number," Boehner said, referring to what dollar amount would be an acceptable compromise between the House-passed spending bill with $61 billion in spending cuts and the $10 billion in cuts already enacted as part of the last two short-term funding bills.

But President Obama painted a different picture, saying that negotiators are close. And Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid also signaled progress.

"Fortunately, I'm happy to say that negotiations to a compromise are moving forward, not as fast as I would like them, but they are moving forward," said Reid on a conference call with reporters.

House and Senate Appropriations staffers plan to work through the weekend to continue slashing the spending. An Appropriations aide said today that all policy decisions that were added to the House-passed spending bill will be left up to GOP leadership to negotiate.

So even when there is an agreement on which programs are cut and by how much, there will still be the thorny issue of whether the Senate will give in to House GOP demands to strip government funding for Planned Parenthood, prevent the EPA from regulating carbon emissions and cut funding for public broadcasting and health care reform implementation.

Meanwhile, the posturing continued over who would be to blame for a shutdown if one occurred and what the consequences would be.

The House passed the Government Shutdown Protection Act, a symbolic bill crafted by the House GOP that would deem the House-passed spending bill law if the Senate does not pass a spending bill by April 6th.

Democrats slammed the move saying that Republicans were ignoring the part of the constitution that makes clear laws must pass both the House and Senate, and be signed by the president, to become law.

"We have six days left to negotiate," said Rep. Jared Polis on the House Floor. "And yet here today instead of contributing to a solution, the House Republicans are bringing about a Constitutional crisis on top of the funding crisis."

Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY) even read from the children's book "House Mouse, Senate Mouse" to jokingly explain to his colleagues how a bill becomes law.

Republicans argued that the Senate should pass the bill so that there is a backup plan to keep the government open if the Congress can't come to an agreement by next Friday and the government shuts down.

Another group of Republicans introduced a bill that would make sure that the military is paid in the event of a government shutdown. And held a press conference saying that that reality would be the Democrats' fault.

"They don't seem to do anything more than be very excited about the concept of shutting down the government," said Rep. John Carter, who represents Fort Hood. "Well if that's the concept that's going to get them all gleeful, I want to make sure that our soldiers don't have to suffer for that."

The military is considered essential, and therefore would work and be paid in the event of a shutdown, but the Republicans said they wanted to take away that concern for soldiers serving overseas by making it clear they get paid in real time. Not retroactively after the shutdown.

Speaker Boehner was most forceful today that a shutdown is not the fiscally responsible choice.

"If you shut the government down it will end up costing more than you save because you interrupt contracts," Boehner explained to reporters. "There are a lot of problems with the idea of shutting the government down. It is not the goal. The goal is to cut spending."

A goal that is rapidly coming against a hard deadline.

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    Jill Jackson is a CBS News senior political producer.