Reid, Boehner announce agreement to avoid pre-Election Day shutdown

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) on Tuesday announced an agreement to avoid a government shutdown shortly before the November election.

The agreed-upon stopgap will help both parties avoid a major conflict before voters head to the polls, when a government shutdown would pose a significant electoral risk to incumbents on both sides of the aisle.

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Reid said President Obama has also agreed to the deal.

“This agreement reached between the Senate, the House and the White House provides stability for the coming months, when we will have to resolve critical issues that directly affect middle-class families,” Reid said in a statement. “I hope that we can face the challenges ahead in the same spirit of compromise.”

The continuing resolution (CR) will extend government funding for six months after it runs out Oct. 1.

The length allows Congress to spend the lame-duck session concentrating on the Bush-era tax rates, which expire at the end of the year, and how to deal with the $55 billion in defense cuts set to go into effect on Jan. 2.

The agreement will fund the government at $1.047 trillion, the top-line spending level for 2012.

While 2012 spending was set at $1.043 trillion under the August 2011 Budget Control Act, the actual rate is expected to be closer to $1.047 trillion. That also is the number set for 2013 spending.

“Leader Reid and I have reached an agreement by which the House and Senate will approve a six-month continuing resolution in September to keep the government operating into next year. During the August district work period, committee members and their staff will write legislation that can be passed by the House and Senate in September and sent to President Obama to be signed into law,” Boehner said in a statement.

White House spokesman Jay Carney praised the agreement.

“We are encouraged that both sides have agreed to resolve this issue without delay,” he said in a statement. “The president has made clear that it is essential that the legislation to fund the government adheres to the funding levels agreed to by both parties last year, and not include ideological or extraneous policy riders.”  

Reid said the continuing resolution will be “free of riders.” Some conservatives in the House had been hoping that the compromise bill would at least defund Obama’s health reform law.

The Senate majority leader told reporters that there has been no discussion of using the CR to deal with automatic spending cuts or other matters, like drought relief. 

Senate Appropriations Committee ranking member Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) criticized the six-month stopgap, saying passing detailed appropriations bills is better.

“Agreeing to put the government on autopilot for six months is no great achievement. It simply means more drift,” he said. “There is no excuse for the Senate not to be considering the appropriations bills.”

The text of the CR is not expected this week, and any vote will be delayed until September. This is the last week Congress is in session before August recess.

While appropriators had hoped to wrap up the 2012 spending matter quickly in a lame-duck session, conservatives in the House pushed for a longer-term bill. They are betting on Republicans winning control of the Senate and Mitt Romney taking the White House, resulting in their being able to quickly roll back spending and approve policy measures like the defunding of Obama’s healthcare reform law.

House conservatives suggested Tuesday that they would be able to accept the higher spending number as long as they got a six-month measure, something they predict would take them into the opening months of a Romney administration.

“We have said, as a conservative, [$1.047 trillion], we’ll swallow hard,” Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.) told reporters. “We’ll accept that number, as long as it’s a six-month CR and it doesn’t have a whole lot of other monkey business tied to it.”

“I think there’s a clear sense that moving it into the new administration is important,” Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) added during an interview with reporters. “That the certainty of that in and of itself is helpful for the economy.”

Rep. Steve Womack (R-Ark.), a member of the Appropriations Committee, also predicted that House GOP appropriators would be on board with a six-month deal.  

“If one could forecast a change in leadership in this town after the November election, I think it’s important that we keep the wheels of government turning in such a way that we can allow a potential new president and a new Congress to get on the same page,” Womack said.

Some fiscal conservatives applauded the deal because it avoids a lame-duck vote on 2013 spending.

“A funding fight at that time would have added fuel to the fire during a session of Congress where lawmakers whom the American people voted out of office could push for tax increases, continued out-of-control spending and a continuation of harmful policies that breed dependency on government,” Heritage Action CEO Michael Needham said.

But a leading Tea Party group blasted the lack of deep cuts.

“Mr. Boehner and Mr. Reid, you might not have built our country, but your lack of guts is destroying it,” said Jenny Beth Martin of Tea Party Patriots.

Senate Democrats are betting on keeping control of the upper chamber, and did not want the risk of a government shutdown complicating lame-duck talks on taxes and other automatic budget cuts.

Bernie Becker contributed.