[Updated at 8 p.m. ET Thursday] Try to act like you havenâ€™t heard this before: The U.S. government is days away from a potential partial shutdown.
For the eighth time in calendar 2011, Congress must approve at least a stop-gap spending measure because it failed to authorize spending for a full fiscal year. The current temporary measure ends Friday, and if Congress fails to act, a partial shutdown akin to that of 1995/1996 would ensue.
Leaders of both parties say they intend to keep the government funded. But as of Wednesday, a spending plan was held up as lawmakers argued over other issues, including possible extensions of a payroll tax cut and federal unemployment benefits.
Congressional negotiators came to an agreement Thursday night that they believe will prevent a shutdown, according to several Democratic sources. Negotiators were signing off on a massive spending bill that funds the government through October 1, 2012, they told CNN.
Both the House and Senate are expected to vote on the conference report Friday.
Temporary spending measures arenâ€™t unusual. At least one was passed in 27 out of the last 30 years, so that Congress could have more time to develop a fuller spending plan. But this year the country averaged more than one every two months, with many of them featuring battles between House Republicans - believing 2010 elections gave them a mandate to bring budget deficits under control - and Senate Democrats over how to shrink deficits.
Hereâ€™s a look at the eight times the federal government technically came within days of losing its spending authorization this year, plus the summer debt-ceiling debate that also brought talk of a potential shutdown.
The Democratic-controlled House and Senate of 2010 failed to pass a budget for fiscal 2011, which would start in October 2010. Republicans won control of the House in November 2010 elections, setting the stage for this year's fierce budget battles.
With no full-year spending plan, a lame-duck Congress in December passed three short-term resolutions, with the final one keeping government operating until March 3.
Taking official control of the House in January, Republicans declined to pass any further spending extension, or "continuing resolution," without securing cuts as part of the deal. Freshmen Republicans, keen on slashing deficits, initially pressured their leadership to cut $100 billion from then-current spending levels.
By mid-February, the House GOP was pushing for $61 billion in cuts, which would have been partly reached by blocking all federal funding for Planned Parenthood and the president's health care overhaul, limiting the Environmental Protection Agency and cutting millions of dollars for the arts, heating subsidies and financial services regulations.
[Updated at 9:44 p.m. ET] Referring to the Obama administration's contention that Standard & Poor's analysis of the government's finances was off by about $2 trillion, a Treasury Department spokesperson said: "A judgment flawed by a $2 trillion error speaks for itself."
The Standard & Poor's rating agency announced Friday evening that it has downgraded the U.S. credit rating to AA+ from its top rank of AAA.
On Friday afternoon, hours before S&P publicly announced the downgrade, the agency revealed its plans to the Obama administration and sent an analysis to the Treasury Department. The senior administration official said the analysis inflated U.S. deficits by $2 trillion.
Treasury analysts contacted S&P and challenged the analysis, and S&P acknowledged the mistake, the official said. But S&P said it still would stick with its decision to downgrade the United States' credit rating, according to the official.FULL STORY
[Update 1:32 p.m.] Alabama has joined the other 49 states in a joint investigation of foreclosure practices by major lenders.
Alabama was not included in the original coalition of 49 states, but the office of Attorney General Troy King indicated Tuesday afternoon that his state would end its holdout and join the investigation.
[Original post] Forty-nine state attorneys general announced a coordinated probe Wednesday into improper foreclosures performed by the nation's largest loan servicers, but stopped short of calling for a freeze on all foreclosures.
The group will work to put an immediate stop to improper mortgage foreclosure practices, as well as review past and present practices by loan servicers and potential remedies.
The inquiry will be led by Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller.
"This group has the backing of nearly every state in the nation to get to the bottom of this foreclosure mess, and we plan to work together as thoroughly and expeditiously as possible," said Miller.
Alabama is the only state not participating in the investigation.