Thursday, April 7, 2011

Still No Deal on Budget

The federal government is less than two days away from a federal shutdown that Pennsylvania Democratic Senator Bob Casey says could have dire economic consequences.

The House passed another one week spending bill this afternoon, as President Obama continues to negotiate a budget deal with Republican leaders, but in a brief phone interview, Casey said another stop-gap measure isn’t a viable answer. “We need to move on. We need to get an agreement, avoid a shutdown and begin the debate about the 2012 budget,” he said. “That’s what we should be working on. And that includes not just the budget itself, but cutting spending more and reducing deficit and debt.”

Republican Senator Pat Toomey has also said he’d be reluctant to vote for another stopgap bill, and President Obama is threatening to veto the measure. (Toomey’s office declined a request for a phone interview this afternoon.)

The current stopgap spending bill expires at midnight Friday. If a deal isn’t signed into law before then, the federal government grinds to a halt. That means no tours of National Parks Service sites like Independence Mall and the Gettysburg National Military Park, among other implications. The shutdown would have particularly poor timing, when it comes to sites operated by the Parks Service: the 150th anniversary of the Civil War is just days away, and National Parks Week kicks off April 16th. A Gettysburg spokeswoman declined to comment on the possible shutdown, instead directing reporters to a statement from the Department of the Interior. “Visitor activities that require a permit, including public events, will not be allowed or will be cancelled or postponed,” the statement reads. “Visitor centers will be closed and access to park areas denied, including the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, Independence Hall, Alcatraz, and the Washington Monument. Visitors using overnight concession accommodations and campgrounds will be notified and given 48 hours to make alternate arrangements.”

Experts say a short-term federal shutdown wouldn’t have much of an impact on Pennsylvania state government. State programs that rely on federal funding would run into problems, however, if the impasse lasts several weeks.

Casey is spending the afternoon in meetings about the budget negotiations, and the ramifications of a possible federal shutdown. “For taxpayers, everything from how people file tax returns to getting a loan for a small business – a whole range of services – won’t be available or will be substantially cut back,” he said.

President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner are apparently just $6 billion apart, according to Politico and other news outlets. Casey said he’s hoping for a compromise. “For weeks now, for months now, we have worked with Republicans to reduce spending in a substantial and unprecedented way. And I would hope that folks on the other side are at least trying to meet us halfway. I think in some ways Democrats have gone well beyond halfway.”

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