Shutdown threat: It's about more than money
The federal budget stalemate that could trigger a government shutdown shifted Thursday from a debate over spending cuts to a fight over abortion and environmental regulation, which have divided Democrats and Republicans for years.
Tribune Washington bureau
Sticking pointsGOP policy proposals that could be possible deal-breakers for Democrats:
Planned Parenthood: Republicans seek to defund the nation's largest abortion provider. The organization receives millions of dollars for nonabortion services for poor women, including cancer screenings and contraceptives. Conservatives question Planned Parenthood's integrity and argue federal funds free up other money that can be used for abortions; liberals say taking away funding would harm women's health efforts.
Abortion: Federal law bars the use of federal money to pay for abortions, but that ban does not extend to state funding. Seventeen states, including Washington, and the District of Columbia use nonfederal dollars to help some low-income women obtain the procedure through Medicaid. Because D.C. money is overseen by Congress, the city had to gain congressional approval before extending that benefit. That permission came two years ago, when Democrats controlled the White House and both chambers of Congress. The Republican-led House has proposed revoking that permission.
The environment: Republicans are aiming to curb the Environmental Protection Agency's reach, especially its role as a regulator of the greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change. GOP lawmakers have proposed riders that would limit the agency's ability to oversee coal mining and enforce the Clean Air Act.
The Washington Post
WASHINGTON — The federal budget stalemate that could trigger a government shutdown shifted Thursday from a debate over spending cuts to a fight over abortion and environmental regulation, which have divided Democrats and Republicans for years.
After negotiators worked day and night to strike a compromise, no agreement had been reached as Friday's shutdown deadline neared.
For a third consecutive day, President Obama called House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., to meetings at the White House to avert a disruption in government services, which the administration fears could impair the nation's fragile economic recovery.
Republicans have insisted for weeks that they want to cut federal spending. But conservative House members also have pushed for Republican policy priorities related only indirectly to the spending debate.
"This is no longer about the budget deficit," said Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, the No. 2 Senate Democrat. "It's about bumper stickers."
The two sides appeared to be near agreement on a package that would cut spending by $34.5 billion for the rest of the 2011 fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30. The package would cut slightly deeper than a previous proposal, in part because it would include $3 billion in Defense Department reductions that would appeal to Democrats and fiscally conservative Republicans.
The Republicans had sought $61 billion in cuts.
But Boehner said no new agreement on spending levels had been reached as he continued to pursue the most cuts possible.
Polls show that most in Boehner's party are behind him. A new Gallup poll said that, while most Americans want the two sides to compromise, a majority of Republicans want lawmakers to stick to their principles, even if it means shutting down the government.
"We're continuing to work toward an agreement," Boehner said after a midday meeting at the White House with Reid and Vice President Joseph Biden. "But we are not there yet."
Yet, the dispute over the size of the spending cuts receded as Republicans made a play to include their top policy priorities, which have been a strong undercurrent throughout the debate, in the budget package.
Boehner is fighting to retain provisions that were included in a House-passed bill in February. They would restrict abortion services and limit the ability of the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate pollutants.
Five separate family-planning and abortion provisions were pursued by the Republicans, including one that would prevent federal funding for Planned Parenthood, a long-sought goal for many socially conservative lawmakers.
The GOP proposed a new abortion-related provision to give states more control over federal family-planning funds under the Title X program.
Long-standing federal law prohibits federal funds from being used for abortion, except in rare cases. But the proposed change would allow governors or local officials to steer funds away from Planned Parenthood or other health-care providers that also offer abortion services.
The Title X program was launched during the Nixon administration as a way to provide women access to reproductive health care. House members want to eliminate $317 million in the program for the 2011 fiscal year.
Other provisions related to family planning pursued by the GOP would halt foreign-aid funding to health organizations that promote or provide abortion services, a measure known as the Mexico City rule, as well as to the U.N. Population Fund, which provides reproductive, AIDS prevention and women's health services.
Another would ban the District of Columbia from sending local tax money to groups that provide access to abortions.
The House GOP also is pressing for several provisions related to the EPA's ability to regulate greenhouse gases.
The House adopted a temporary funding bill on a party-line vote Thursday, drawing a veto threat from Obama. The measure was considered unlikely to pass the Senate.
The House bill would cut $12 billion from domestic accounts, while increasing Pentagon funding and ensuring paychecks for the troops were not disrupted during a government shutdown.
Tribune Washington bureau reporters Kathleen Hennessey and Peter Nicholas contributed to this report. Information from The New York Times also is included.
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