A last-minute deal struck by Congress and the White House late Friday night averted a federal government shutdown that would have furloughed thousands of federal employees and threatened research operations at universities nationwide.
The tentative budget deal came hours before the midnight deadline when funding for government services would have run out. The bill, which will be finalized mid-week, will cut $38 billion in spending this year and sets up a larger battle over next year’s budget.
During a shutdown, all non-essential government functions would have ceased, federal offices would have been closed and federal employees would not have been paid. National parks and museums would also have closed, and the IRS would have stopped processing tax returns.
Going into Friday, Republican and Democratic leaders in Congress were at odds over the bill. With Republicans pushing for deeper cuts and Democrats seeking to protect federal funding for family planning services, the first government shutdown in 15 years seemed imminent.
In remarks after the deal was made, President Barack Obama said the cuts would be painful, but the bill also invested in education, student loans and clean energy.
“Today Americans of different beliefs came together again,” Obama said. “Like any worthwhile compromise, both sides had to make tough decisions and give ground on issues that were important to them.”
Funding for family planning services was ultimately protected, but Congress must now move on to negotiations for the next fiscal year’s budget, which starts in October.
University of Minnesota political science professor Kathryn Pearson said many of the issues at the heart of this budget standoff could be brought up again over the coming months.
“They disagree on a lot of issues,” she said. “I’m sure that both sides are thinking about these cuts with an eye towards next year.”
Striking the deal now allows Congress to turn its focus to next year’s budget, Pearson said, and it will serve as a framework for future negotiations.
“There’s still two budget cycles to go with the current Congress,” she said. “Once cuts are made, it’s easier to produce a budget that relies on last year’s numbers.”
At the University, the shutdown threatened the flow of more than $400 million in federal research funds the school receives annually.
The University spent Friday preparing for the shutdown and working to decipher federal directives trickling down from different agencies, but Associate Vice President for Research Administration Pamela Webb said much of the information coming in was unclear.
“The problem right now is we don’t have complete information,” Webb said Friday before the deal was struck. “We’re trying to get to the bottom of that.”
Passport offices would also have closed, making it difficult for foreign academics to visit the University and for University professors to travel abroad, she said.
-The Associated Press contributed to this report