April 6, 2011; Source: Associated Press | It would be difficult to craft a crazier few days of politics in Washington. Earlier this week, President Obama told Republican leaders in the House of Representatives to “act like adults” and “quit playing games,” to which Republican leaders responded with the equivalent of an elementary school playground taunt: “oh yeah?”.

Yesterday, progress toward an extension of the continuing resolutions in Congress –forget a full budget for Fiscal Year 2011 – was so pathetically nonexistent that the president called a late night meeting with House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid at the White House. After 75 minutes, the president announced that they had “narrowed” the issues but had not reached a deal to avoid a shutdown.

If a deal isn’t reached – and approved – by Friday, the federal government pretty much closes down on Saturday. It will be the culmination of week after week of playing chicken with the federal budget.

Maybe a miracle will happen today. Maybe both parties will come to an agreement involving minimal pain to critical social needs. The president expressed confidence that a deal could be reached if both sides simply keep “pounding away at this thing.”

Yesterday, the Republicans announced their plan to call for a vote today on $12 billion in cuts for a one-week extension of the continuing resolution (except that the military budget would be funded through the end of the fiscal year). The problem? The Democrats have already rejected the $12 billion cut extension out of hand, knowing that it would simply be replaced the following week with a new budget cut ultimatum.

The press covers the budget negotiations like a celebrity poker match, the party leaders with stacks of chips to bet, raise, and call. But the $12 billion that the Republicans want to cut isn’t just a number. It is the aggregate of specific cuts outlined by the House Appropriations Committee, including the following:

  • Agriculture: $1.4 billion including $137 million cut from rural development and conservation
  • Justice/Commerce: $430 million
  • Energy: $632 million, including $192 million from Department of Energy environmental clean-up programs
  • Treasury: $590 million
  • Homeland Security: $1.4 billion
  • Interior: $1.27 billion cuts to land acquisition projects plus $71.5 million from the Land and Water Conservation Fund and $700 million from the Clean Water and Drinking Water program
  • Labor/Health and Human Services: $2.5 billion including $390 million from the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) and $156 million from the Centers for Disease Control
  • State and Foreign Operations: $832 million including $212 from international financial institutions, $466 million from foreign assistance, and $237 million from United Nations and peacekeeping activities
  • Transportation/Housing and Urban Development: $2 billion, including $149 million from public housing operating funds

This list is the price that the nation would pay for keeping the government running for one additional week. Tomorrow, if no deal is reached, the Newswire will talk about what a shutdown would look like.—Rick Cohen