President Obama on Spending Bill: No Time for Games, Need 'Grown Up' Discussions

President makes rare appearance to push Congress members to compromise.

April 4, 2011, 5:29 PM

WASHINGTON, April 5, 2011— -- President Obama today made a rare appearance in the White House briefing room to push members of Congress to come together on a plan to fund the government until September, in a move signalling that the federal government may be closer to the first shutdown in 15 years.

"At a time when the economy is just beginning to grow, where we're just starting to see a pickup in employment, the last thing we need is a disruption that's caused by a government shutdown. Not to mention all the people who depend on government services," the president said today. "It would be inexcusable for us to not be able to take care of last year's business... simply because of politics."

Obama, who met with Democratic and Republican leaders at the White House today, said he is ready to meet again Wednesday if lawmakers can't find a resolution today.

Leaders from both parties are set to meet again this evening to continue the discussions, though Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said he is "not optimistic" about the negotiations.

Obama chided Republicans for not meeting Democrats halfway and for inserting proposals that he says are based on ideology.

"What we can't do is have a 'my way or the highway' approach to this problem," the president said. "Nobody gets a 100 percent of what they want. And we have more than met the Republicans halfway at this point."

Days away from the deadline, Republicans and Democrats are at a stalemate over what should be cut in the remainder of the fiscal 2011 budget, and today's meeting bore little fruit.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, stood firm on his claims today that the $33 billion in cuts figure is too little and that while he doesn't want the government to shut down, he will continue fighting for the cuts that Republicans want.

"We're not going to allow the Senate nor the White House to put us in a box where we have to make a choice between two bad options -- cutting a bad deal this week in order to keep the government open or allow the government to shut down due to Senate inaction," he said.

Federal agencies are putting together contingency plans in the case of a shutdown, which last happened during the Clinton administration in 1996.

White House officials have started telling agency and cabinet officials to begin informing managers about shutdown plans.

"We are aware of the calendar, and to be prudent and prepare for the chance that Congress may not pass a funding bill in time, OMB [Office of Management and Budget] today encouraged agency heads to begin sharing their contingency plans with senior managers throughout their organization to ensure that they have their feedback and input," OMB spokesman Ken Baer told ABC News' Jake Tapper.

Boehner's office on Monday also directed House Administration Committee chairman Dan Lungren to issue guidance to all members on how the House would operate if the government shuts down.

All essential staff will still have to report to work but all nonessential staff will be furloughed, according to the committee. The House gift shop, the Capitol Visitors Center, the Botanic Gardens and the flag office will be closed.

Only federal employees who are "necessary to protect life and property" and are needed to perform an "orderly shutdown of emergency operations" are considered "essential." That includes most national intelligence staff, military personnel, air traffic controllers, law enforcement, emergency and disaster personnel, the Transportation Security Administration, Coast Guard and similar staff.

Nonessential staff cannot report to work or use their computers while they are furloughed.

House Republicans are rallying behind a new temporary funding measure introduced Monday night that would keep the government running for another week while cutting $12 billion in discretionary spending. The move, they said, would keep the government's doors open as lawmakers hash out a long-term plan.

The legislation allocates $515.8 billion in base funding for the Department of Defense until September, a 1.5 percent increase from 2010. It cuts $2.5 billion from labor, health and human services; about $2 billion from transportation and housing programs; $1.4 billion from the Department of Homeland Security; $1.27 billion from the Interior department; $832 million from domestic and international operations; $632 million from the Energy department; $590 million from financial services programs and $430 million from accounts of the Commerce, Science and Justice departments.

Most Americans, far removed from the daily partisan grinds of Washington, are unlikely to experience a direct impact. But experts said a shutdown could damage the economy and consumer confidence if it is prolonged. It will also end up costing the government more, especially if furloughed employees have to be paid retroactively.

The U.S. Postal Service will operate as normal, since it is self-funded. Social Security, veterans and Medicare checks would continue to be disbursed, although there could be a delay in services for new registrants and those who have filed a change of address form.

Americans who receive food stamps also will continue to do so, but if the shutdown is prolonged, such disbursements are likely to be delayed and backlogged.

Many Americans may have to hold off on their travel plans. Museums and national parks will close, as will the national zoo, and passport applications are likely to be delayed.

Some government inspection services, such as for meat, may be delayed.

The uncertainty could also roil stock markets and rattle consumer confidence, though that would depend on how long a shutdown lasts. Lawmakers could use the weekend to cobble together a plan that would minimize the impact, since the federal government is shut over the weekend.

Members of Congress and their essential staff will continue to work and be paid. The Senate last month passed a bill calling for a freeze on lawmakers' paychecks in case of a government shutdown.

A similar clause was included in the Government Shutdown Prevention Act, which was passed by the House on Friday. But that legislation holds no chance of making it through the Senate, since it would make the House Republicans' budget bill for 2011 the law of the land if the Senate doesn't pass an appropriations bill.

Democrats are placing the blame squarely on the Tea Party for stalling negotiations. Several Tea Party members of Congress support a government shutdown if that's what it takes to stick to their desired cuts.

"Tea Party Republicans refuse to recognize that their budget is a simply appalling proposal," Reid said Monday. "They stomp their feet and call 'compromise' a dirty word, and insist on a budget that will hurt America rather than help it."

Republicans blame Democrats for the stalemate.

"It's become sadly evident to me, and to the American people, that the White House and Senate Democrats are just not serious yet about enacting real spending cuts," Boehner, R-Ohio, said in a statement Monday. "If the government shuts down, it will be because Senate Democrats failed to do their job."

Government shutdowns are not a new phenomenon, though their effects vary depending on the country's economic and political situation.

There were six government shutdowns between 1977 and 1980, ranging from eight to 17 days, according to the Congressional Research Service. From 1981 to 1995, there were nine such occurrences, lasting three days each.

The longest government shutdown was during President Clinton's administration in 1995 and 1996, when it lasted for 21 days and paralyzed important government functions.

"It was very difficult. It was so much uncertainty. People just couldn't go anywhere. It created all kinds of havoc in the government. That was a very difficult, unfortunate period," said Gus Schumacher, who served as undersecretary of agriculture under Clinton. "You couldn't come to work. You had to stay home. You were not allowed to work because you weren't on the payroll."

ABC News' John Parkinson contributed to this report.

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events