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Published: Monday, 4/4/2011

Congress' job

Congress is again approaching a deadline to pass the federal budget bill for 2011 — a fiscal year that is already half over — to avoid a government shutdown on Friday.

The scuffle is largely between the Democratic-controlled Senate and Republican-led House. Leaders of the bodies appear to have agreed on a compromise that would trim $33 billion in spending.

But tea-party Republicans want to cut $100 billion, as they have promised their supporters. More-mainstream Republicans claim to want $61 billion in cuts.

It is not clear that House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio) can rein in the mavericks and provide enough votes for a deal. Nor is it certain that House Democrats will accept cuts to long-favored, popular programs that will be needed even to save $33 billion.

If President Obama and Democratic lawmakers hadn't agreed to extend the Bush-era tax cuts at the end of last year, there could be enough money to avoid spending reductions that risk jeopardizing the economic recovery and undermining the country's future.

The federal jobs report for March offers better news. The U.S. economy created an encouraging 216,000 jobs last month, reducing the unemployment rate slightly to 8.8 percent. Why tea-partiers or others in Congress feel an urgent need to threaten the economy and country with a sharp knee to the stomach, by way of a government shutdown, is hard to understand.

Americans have a right to expect their elected representatives to find a way out of this hole before Friday. But even if they resolve the immediate problem, they will be faced quickly with two more issues.

One is to raise the national debt ceiling above its towering $14.5 trillion to enable the government to borrow more — 41 cents for every dollar it spends. The other is to debate budget legislation for the 2012 fiscal year.

Can't lawmakers just do their jobs and spare weary, shell-shocked citizens their posturing, rhetoric, and attempts to lay blame?



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