Shutdown Chicken being played on Pennsylvania Ave

Friday - 2/18/2011, 9:31am EST

Jim Horney, Vice President for Federal Fiscal Policy, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

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By Suzanne Kubota
Senior Internet Editor
FederalNewsRadio.com

There's a big budget game of chicken with a shutdown of the federal government at stake.

At one end of Pennsylvania Avenue on Capitol Hill, GOP wants deep cuts in a continuing resolution. Meanwhile, President Obama has threatened to veto the measure if it's not to his liking.

Rhetoric is heating up on both sides about possible triggers for a government shutdown. Current funding for the federal government will expire within days of Congress's return from the President's Day recess.

Jim Horney, Vice President for Federal Fiscal policy at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, told Federal News Radio, this isn't your father's shutdown threat.

This time it doesn't look like we're close to a resolution of the fiscal year 2011 appropriations and it's really likely to meld in with the debate that's likely to occur over coming weeks and couple of months over the need to increase the debt limit and what to do more generally about the budget. So this may end up being a really unusual year in how long it takes to settle what appropriations to provide for the current year.

Horney explained the basic conflict between the two plans.

"The difference between the President's budget and what the House Republicans are doing right now," said Horney, "is the House Republicans want to institute big cuts in programs, and across the board - not exactly the same level across the board, but it really reaches into everything; the grants and the day to day operations of the government." While the President has called for increases in education and transportation, noted Horney, he's not calling for big cuts in day to day operations.

Horney said he worries that for members of Congress who haven't had much experience with appropriations "and what it takes to provide for the day to day operations of the government, it's awfully easy to say 'Oh let's just cut back on those expenses. Let's reduce this,' without having a sense of you can't do that very much without really harming the ability of the federal government to provide the services and benefits that people expect."

The more funding for the current year is delayed, the more it makes things very difficult, said Horney, for agencies. The average cut being called for is about 14% below the current level, "but since you're going to squeeze those cuts into the last seven months or so of the fiscal year, it means for the rest of the year, agencies would have to operate on about 24 percent than they are currently." That can make things very difficult for agencies in terms of salaries, expenses and on-going operations, said Horney.