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Associated Press/Photo by Pablo Martinez Monsivais

No deal yet

Congress | Democrats blame social issues while Republicans point to spending cuts

WASHINGTON-Despite negotiations that ran late into Thursday night, lawmakers still are divided on a budget deal. And with a federal government shutdown looming for midnight Friday, the remaining disagreement seems to be over life as well as money.

At least that is what Democrats want Americans to believe.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Friday morning that leaders of the two parties have agreed on a $38 billion spending cut for the ongoing fiscal year. But Democrats are balking at a Republican demand to defund abortion provider Planned Parenthood.

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"The Tea Party is trying to sneak through its extreme social agenda-issues that have nothing to do with funding the government," said Reid. "They are willing to throw women under the bus, even if it means they'll shut down the government."

While the Democrats blamed social issues for the impasse, Republicans are insisting that the two sides still differ on how much to cut from the federal government.

"There's only one reason that we do not have an agreement as yet, and that issue is spending," said House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio. "I think the American people deserve to know when will the White House and when will Senate Democrats get serious about cutting spending,"

Democrats, Republicans warn, are trying to use the abortion issue as a scapegoat for a possible shutdown.

"Democrats are saying the holdup is over social issues," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. "This plays nicely into the political strategy they've decided on to distract people from their own fiscal recklessness."

While the debate continues, both sides are playing the blame game as they brace for the political fallout over a possible government shutdown.

The White House has warned that such a closure would delay the processing of tax refunds and deny pay to military troops.

The Republican-led House responded Thursday afternoon by passing legislation to fund the military for six months. That bill, which garnered some Democrat support in the House, also would keep the government running for one additional week while cutting $12 million in spending. But it has gone nowhere in the Democrat-led Senate. President Barack Obama called the bill a "distraction" and threatened to veto it.

Boehner argued that the House bill takes the "responsible steps" to keep the government open and support the nation's troops.

Obama, who has been criticized by members of both parties for being a latecomer to the budget debates, has hosted four White House meetings this week with Reid and Boehner.

"For us to go backwards because Washington couldn't get its act together is just unacceptable," Obama said.

But as the talks continue, government officials are beginning to crank up shutdown procedures: Nonessential federal workers, about 800,000 employees, would be furloughed. Congressional and White House staffers are being told to turn in their Blackberry phones and federal identifications. They have also been warned that they could face $1,000 fines if they use their work-related phones and emails during a shutdown.

Small business loans, federal housing mortgages, and passport processing are among the services that would be disrupted. Federal parks and landmarks would close.

The debate on this year's budget is hitting its climax after dominating Congress for most of the past few months. The stage was set when last year's Democrat-controlled Congress failed to pass a budget. The current Congress has already passed two extensions to fund the six months left on the current fiscal year. But the House's efforts to pass one more extension seem to have finally faltered in the Senate.

Edward Lee Pitts
Edward Lee Pitts

Lee is WORLD's Washington Bureau chief. As a reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press, he was embedded with a National Guard unit in Iraq. He also once worked in the press office of Sen. Lamar Alexander.

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