Updated: 2011 a year for flirting with government shutdowns
December 14th, 2011
07:46 PM ET

Updated: 2011 a year for flirting with government shutdowns

[Updated at 8 p.m. ET Thursday] Try to act like you haven’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 aren’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.

Here’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.

March 4

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.

Democrats resisted, saying the cuts were too severe and that deficits could be alleviated if Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, which Republicans wanted to keep, were allowed to expire. If the parties couldn't come to a deal by March 4, the government would partially shut down, temporarily putting hundreds of thousands of federal employees out of work, though essential services such as air traffic control would continue.

On March 2, Congress passed a deal that would keep government operating for two more weeks, through March 18. In that deal, Republicans won $4 billion in spending cuts from 2010 levels, while holding out hope they could secure much more in coming negotiations. To get the $4 billion, eight programs were eliminated, including those involving rural broadband access, education and highway construction.

"We cannot keep doing business this way," President Barack Obama said after the deal's passage. "Living with the threat of a shutdown every few weeks is not responsible and it puts our economic progress in jeopardy."

March 18

House Republicans still were looking for $57 billion in additional cuts over the rest of the fiscal year, which was due to end in October. But Democrats again were opposed to the GOP's targeting of Planned Parenthood and the health care overhaul, among other items.

Days before the March 18 deadline, the two sides managed to agree to another continuing resolution, this time until April 8, that cut another $6 billion from 2010 levels, but didn't touch Planned Parenthood or health care reform. Obama signed the measure on the 18th, and lawmakers from both parties said it would be the last temporary measure agreeing on a longer-term bill.

House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, the Wisconsin Republican who later would call for spending reductions through entitlement reform, admitted he didn't expect any bipartisan deal to change Medicare, Medicaid or Social Security, saying he believed that would be fought after the 2012 elections.

April 8

This time, the federal government would come within minutes of a shutdown.

Negotiators haggled for days in closed-door meetings over the next round of cuts, with Democrats still fighting Republicans over proposed cuts they felt were too severe.

When April 8 came, negotiations had stalled and lawmakers were trading verbal punches, opening the prospect of a shutdown that would furlough 800,000 government workers. But hours from the deadline, leaders agreed in principle to a deal that would cover the rest of fiscal 2011 but lower spending by a further $38.5 billion from 2010 levels.

Still, lawmakers couldn't finish the legislation before day's end. So they agreed to do what they'd vowed they wouldn't: pass another temporary spending measure, this one lasting through April 15 and cutting $2 billion. President Obama signed the extension early on April 9, averting the shutdown.

"I just want to say real quick that because Congress was able to settle its differences - that's why this place is open today and everybody's able to enjoy their visit," Obama said April 9 during a visit to the Lincoln Memorial in Washington. "That's the kind of future cooperation I hope we have going forward."

April 15

On April 15, the final day of the last stop-gap measure, Obama signed a measure funding government through the rest of fiscal 2011, which was to end September 30.

Congress passed the measure - which essentially was the deal struck a week earlier that cut $38.5 billion - on April 14. The House passed it 260-167, with 59 Republicans opposed and 81 Democrats voting for it. The Senate passed the bill with an 81-19 vote.

The deal cut funding from domestic programs and services such as high-speed rail, emergency first responders and the National Endowment for the Arts. As before, measures to de-fund Planned Parenthood and health care reform were defeated.

Summer debt-ceiling crisis

With the government funded through September 30, Congress focused on the nation's debt ceiling, which the country was set to hit on August 2. If the nation were to fail to raise its $14.3 trillion ceiling, it would not be able to borrow the money it needed to pay all its bills, and the country would risk default, according to the Treasury.

Some also said that because the federal government wouldn't be able to pay all its bills, a partial shutdown also was possible.

As they did during the budget negotiations, Republicans demanded that deficit reduction accompany any debt ceiling increase. Obama initially suggested $4 trillion in deficit reduction over 10 years, with a mix of spending cuts and new revenue, including the expiration of the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, making up the tally. But Republicans generally opposed tax increases.

By August 2, Congress passed a compromise plan to not only raise the debt ceiling, but also cut $917 billion over 10 years, including a roughly $420 billion reduction in the national security budget. The plan also called for at least $1.2 trillion in additional cuts, to be determined by a special Congressional committee (which would come to be known as the Super Committee) by November. If the committee couldn't agree, then $1.2 trillion in automatic cuts to defense and nondefense spending - designed to be unpalatable to both parties - would begin in 2013.

Despite the deal, Standard & Poor's downgraded the country's credit rating. And in November, the Super Committee couldn't agree to additional cuts, meaning that unless the deal is changed, the automatic cuts loom.

September 30

Another fiscal year, another round of temporary spending measures.

With fiscal 2011 ending on September 30, Congress needed to either pass a spending plan for fiscal 2012 or approve another continuing resolution. This time, a battle was brewing over funding for disaster aid.

Thanks to a number of expensive weather and climate disasters such as Hurricane Irene and a series of destructive tornadoes, the Federal Emergency Management Agency needed to replenish its coffers. Obama initially asked Congress for $5.1 billion in additional disaster aid. But Democrats and Republicans were at odds over a GOP demand to cut spending elsewhere to offset increased disaster relief funding.

Days before the deadline, the Senate passed two measures - one that would keep government funded until October 4 and a more comprehensive measure that would extend funding through November 18 - that would contain an additional $2.65 billion in additional money for FEMA. The House - using just three members, because most House members were away on a week's recess - passed the first measure through a procedure known as unanimous consent and left the second bill for the next week. Obama signed the first measure, funding the government through October 4.

October 4

The House, having returned from recess, passed the fiscal year's second extension, which was hammered out the previous week. This measure extended funding through November 17.

November 17

On November 16, a day before the last resolution would expire, Congress passed a bill funding some departments fully through fiscal 2012. The rest of the government got a temporary spending extension, though December 16.

The measure ensured funding for the Agriculture, Transportation, and the Housing and Urban Development departments, among other things, through the entire fiscal year.

December 16 (Friday)

That brings us to the showdown apparently resolved Thursday night. It appeared Wednesday that Senate Democrats, two days before the last extension is to expire, were holding up a funding bill until both parties negotiated a compromise on a payroll tax cut extension. Democrats fear that approving the spending deal first will allow Republicans to leave Washington for the upcoming holiday recess without compromising on the payroll tax-cut extension worth $1,000 to the average working family.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D- Nevada, called instead for Congress to pass another short-term spending extension to keep the government funded until December 21, giving legislators more time to reach a deal on the payroll tax measure and a longer-term spending proposal.

The GOP-led House has passed a bill extending the tax cut, but Senate Democrats object to a number of the bill's provisions, including those that would speed approval of an oil pipeline from Canada and weaken environmental regulations.

Reid on Thursday said negotiations were continuing on extending the payroll tax cut and other provisions that expire at the end of the year, including an extension of unemployment benefits and an increase in payments to doctors who provide Medicare services.

soundoff (94 Responses)
  1. ipmutt

    Where is our absent leader? Why has Obama not been able to provide leadership? Unless he has complete control of house and senate and all fillabuster control he does nothing. This is a complete lack of leadership. In fact the only real leadersjip has come from the house republicans who as a minority in the powerstructure have dictated the agenda and ecerthing that has been accomplished. Vote Obama out.

    December 15, 2011 at 5:31 am | Report abuse |
    • mark

      Lets see .So your republican led congress is right and everyone else is wrong . You are an idiot

      December 15, 2011 at 7:38 am | Report abuse |
    • McBain

      You clearly have no idea how the separation of powers work. The onus for this is all on Congress (both Senate and House.... both Dem and Republican). Their ridiculous intransigence has led to this debacle..... excuse me... these debacles. I really think we need to come together as Americans and vote in only Independants, just to show the two parties that we really don't need them.

      December 15, 2011 at 7:59 am | Report abuse |
    • Chris C.

      Just so you fully understand. No one branch of government (ie executive, legislative, and judicial) has power over the other. The founding fathers set it up this way.

      December 15, 2011 at 8:40 am | Report abuse |
    • Uthor

      The President does not control Congress. It's set up that way. You must have missed some classes in junior high school.

      December 15, 2011 at 9:03 am | Report abuse |
    • Kevin B

      Let's see if we can at least come to agreement on the process......
      1) The PRESIDENT submit's his budget to congress. He did do this, but it had 0 spending cuts, so it was rejected.
      2) The Congress(house) then submitted it's budget to Congress(Senate), and the Senate rejected it because Harry Ried is about as partisan as it get (sorry, I couldn't help it...).
      3) So, things are locked at their current spending levels requiring continuing resolutions to be put forth.

      The president needed to negotiate with the House, but he didn't want to, because he knew any agreement that he could get would cause a reduction in Federal spending, WHICH HE DOESN'T WANT.

      Are we in agreement?

      December 15, 2011 at 9:08 am | Report abuse |
    • Stella

      Totally agree, inputt. For the first two years of his presidency, he had FULL control of government–and fixed NOTHING. Now, the Republican led House seems like the only body that works. They have produced a budget and numerous bills that at least deserved an up or down vote, or discussion by the Senate. Instead the Democrat Obama Puppet Harry Reid denounces the bills "DEAD ON ARRIVAL"–and produces ABSOLUTELY NOTHING. Where is Mr. Obama? Out on the campaign trail–covering for himself by fanning the flames of ENVY against successful Americans instead of taking the reins and negotiating solutions that presidents do in times of crisis. The reason why he can't seem to do this is because he is accustomed to having EVERYTHING handed to him. He lacks experience and wisdom to fulfill even his basic duties as POTUS–leader of the free world. He is an embarrassing liability to America. If we are are to survive this mess, he must be replaced. His pettiness and self-absorption alone is unsustainable.

      December 15, 2011 at 9:33 am | Report abuse |
    • adams63

      how would you like it if you were job hunting and I was at every interview and told them not to hire you, thats the sameway the stonewalling repub idiots are doing to our President who will be re-elected get ready for it I am a republican and I can see all of this do you think other repubs don't feel thesame way?

      December 15, 2011 at 9:38 am | Report abuse |
    • ConcernedDad

      Regardless of party, we expect the President to step above the fray. This president has not. The comment made regarding his first two years is important as he had total control of both houses yet chose to not address our problems (regardless of where they started). The house has been productive while the senate has not. I do hope that the independents (the liberals will vote for Obama and the Republicans will vote for their candidate) will notice the emperor has no clothes and change this madness.

      December 15, 2011 at 1:29 pm | Report abuse |
  2. €:^)

    I'll do my part ! Ron Paul 2012....

    December 15, 2011 at 5:34 am | Report abuse |
    • mark

      Why he is carter in a different skin bag

      December 15, 2011 at 7:39 am | Report abuse |
  3. a disaster!

    three years without a president and federal shut downs are the least of a near failing america's problems.millions foreclosed on and homeless. 14 million already unemployed and a incredible 46 MILLION! americans are collecting food stamps.the american people either wake up and make major changes now or the country will not see the end of 2012....

    December 15, 2011 at 5:58 am | Report abuse |
  4. John

    This Is all Because of the Republican Control Congress that think that everything has to be there way or the highway. They all but refuse to try and Compromise on anything , and there Leadership Is really bad. the biggest part of the time the Leadership of the Republican can't even get the Republican to agree on thing. This has to be the worse Congress America ever had or will have. this Congress will go down In history has the do nothing Congress. The Republican have to lose Control of Congress or anything else or we will be sorry. they have to go In 2012.

    December 15, 2011 at 6:20 am | Report abuse |
    • Kevin B

      Your point of view is confusing. Very simply the House republicans want to spend less, because the govt is $15 Trillion in debt. The president has shown little desire to cut spending. It's a lot easier for 1 guy (the president) to lead (isn't that what we elected him for) to offer suggestions and bring people to the table, HOWEVER, he needs to bring his party along because the SENATE blocks everything (have you seen a bill from them lately?) and that is controlled by the Democrats, specifically Harry Ried who is the most partisan #$%# I have seen. Have you heard some of the things he says? Very unstatesmanlike.

      December 15, 2011 at 9:24 am | Report abuse |
  5. dreucalypt

    Republican tricks, Republican brinksmanship, Republicans willing to damage America to regain power. That's the whole story.

    December 15, 2011 at 7:11 am | Report abuse |
  6. dave richman

    Dear John: The Republicans are not in control of congress. The have a majority in 1/2 of 1/3 of the government. Try blaming someone else. H e l l, try some facts next time.

    December 15, 2011 at 7:13 am | Report abuse |
    • iBod

      Dave, with all due respect, no piece of legislation can get to those other 2/3 of government without 1/2 of the first 1/3 of government. The blame falls rightly so where it belongs. Read a book about government...Kindly.

      December 15, 2011 at 8:09 am | Report abuse |
  7. PM

    I say everyone from the President down should be thrown out. We should start over with level headed common everyday hard working folks and not the do it my way or no way at all people running our country now. Of course this will never happen since you need to basically be a millionaire to run for congress. What ever happened to compromising.

    December 15, 2011 at 7:28 am | Report abuse |
    • Chris C.

      The republicans are the problem.

      December 15, 2011 at 8:43 am | Report abuse |
  8. Chris C.

    Wonder why businesses aren't hireing?

    December 15, 2011 at 8:42 am | Report abuse |
  9. angryyyone

    This one quote from the article demonstrates the entire problem, "The Democratic-controlled House and Senate of 2010 failed to pass a budget for fiscal 2011, which would start in October 2010." A Democratic-controlled House AND Senate with a Democratic President could NOT get anything done. What more needs to be said?!

    December 15, 2011 at 8:46 am | Report abuse |
  10. jmarisk

    Some of you forget that it's not just the people who are voted in that will be without a job if this happens. In fact, the people who will be most affected by this event will be the hardworking blue collar employees. They are not paid as much as you think for all that they do and will not be able to support their families if the government is forced to shutdown. They are people, just like you. They have to make the same sacrifices you make everyday to get by and feed their families. Tis the season to come together, not beat each other up. We're acting like monkeys!

    December 15, 2011 at 8:52 am | Report abuse |
  11. Uthor

    Thanks for the history of a "do-nothing" Congress, probably the worst we've seen in a good while. Throw the bums out!

    December 15, 2011 at 9:00 am | Report abuse |
  12. alan

    The GOP trashed our great nation during the last administration...drove us into deep debt with unpaid wars, tax cuts and new programs. Now they cry crocodile tears of austerity...save it. The GOP are traitors to this nation

    December 15, 2011 at 9:19 am | Report abuse |
  13. wlcm2myworld

    I live in DC. I work for the Feds in a Research Department. This budget cutting crap has killed a number of good programs and already fragile partnerships between us and our private partners. We can't travel, we can't build these relationships with outside companies that those companies need to employee workers.

    Furthermore, with furloughs from us, other businesses die or at least suffer because we, the worker bees, are not deemed essential enough to stay hired. In DC, we have a false economy where the Feds support the businesses around us.

    I'm sorry this turned out to vent post but this is very frustrating. It's bad enough everyone gets hand made stuff for Christmas in my house but now, with a furlough, I'm going to end up homeless because I'm not going to able to afford rent, let alone going home to a family were most of us aren't working because we can't find jobs! This is crap.

    SOMEBODY PLEASE STEP UP AND BE THE BAD GUY! Stop covering up the situation and make a decision already. And stop playing games with the Budget Bills. Draw up a budget that's going to keep us running and not push your biggest supporter interests.

    December 15, 2011 at 9:20 am | Report abuse |
  14. Hah!

    Kevin b, everything that you have written is a rehash of republican pablum. How much would anyone want to negotiate with a bunch of morons led by a bone head who would rather let the country rot than actually listen to someone he vowed to be a one-term president only?

    Are we in agreement?

    December 15, 2011 at 9:22 am | Report abuse |
    • Kevin B

      LOL, you didn't put forward any data points, and you didn't refute anything I wrote, so sure we can be in agreement with nothing. Rather that throwing stuff at each other, I'd like to find common ground, which starts with facts, and yes my Harry Ried comments aren't helping, but it's just so darn easy.....lol.

      December 15, 2011 at 9:29 am | Report abuse |
  15. Julie

    What does an oil pipeline have to do with the Defense budget? Nothing! Why add this to a bill that funds the military? Because the Republican's think it's the only way to bully the project through and be in line for big bucks from the oil companies. I'd rather the government not put drinking water for nearly 1 million people at risk on a pipeline project that hasn't been fully risk-assessed. Shut the government down, I'll take the furlough days so we don't risk another BP Oil tragedy in Nebraska.

    December 15, 2011 at 9:36 am | Report abuse |
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