How to backtime the budget

Wednesday - 3/30/2011, 10:41am EDT

Russell Berman, congressional reporter, The Hill

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Agency funding won't run out until next Friday, but a deal in Congress has to be reached a lot sooner than that to give the House and Senate enough time to pass it. If a deal isn't in place soon, there could be trouble for federal agencies.

Russell Berman, congressional reporter for The Hill newspaper explained it for Federal News Radio.

The House rule says that a bill that is going to be voted on on the floor has to be available to lawmakers and the public 72 hours in advance, and so what that means is we know now that the deadline for reaching a budget deal is April 8th for getting a bill enacted and signed into law, but it means they can't just cobble something together on April 7th and make it happen. They're going to have to, now that we're about 8 or 9 days out, they only have a few more days to really reach a deal so that they can write the legislation, print it, put it on the floor in the House, get it passed in the House and then get it passed in the Senate. So even if they have an agreement, it takes a few days at the least to get all that taken care of. So that's why, even though the drop dead deadline is not until April 8th, the clock is ticking very fast now.

Despite congressional reluctance, Berman said yet another continuing resolution might be needed.

I think right now in the public they are too far apart. They have taken to sort of screaming at each other from across the Senate and the House, but I think that some of these fears about a shutdown or anything more than a couple of days at this point might be a little bit exaggerated because I think both sides realize that a shutdown would be bad politically for each them and would be very risky. And so I think we're getting down to it now and I think it might be difficult them to reach a deal and put it in place by April 8th, but if they have the framework of a deal by early next week or mid-next week, then you might see them pass another short term bill maybe even just for a few days or something like that while they do all the logistical work of getting the larger bill ready.

As a professional congress watcher, Berman gave an inside tip how to tell if Congress is close to an agreement.

Well, the first one is to watch some of the public rhetoric and see if it simmers down a bit - that's always an indication that they're getting close to a deal. And also, they've ruled out, or pretty much ruled out, doing another short term resolution, but they might start talking about something where, you know, if they can get to a deal next week, then they can sort of bridge the gap if it's only a few days. The concern is going to be if it's more than a few days and gets to a few weeks and that's where you're going to have the real concern. I would tell people just keep watching, keep reading The Hill and some of these newspapers and watching how the tone of the negotiations at least in public continues, because that's usually a pretty good indication. If they're yelling at each other very loudly, it usually means negotiations have broken down.

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