A deal to prevent a government shutdown has yet to be reached, and the clock is ticking ominously toward a shutdown on Friday. After a late-night meeting between President Obama, Harry Reid and John Boehner, sources said a tentative agreement was reached to cut around $34.5 billion in fiscal year 2011–12, according to the Huffington Post (the specifics of the cuts remain secret). But the sticking point concerns GOP “riders” focused on hot-button issues unrelated to the deficit, such as defunding family planning services at Planned Parenthood and preventing the EPA from regulating greenhouse gas emissions—two highlights of the budget passed by House Republicans in February.

Just yesterday, the Senate rejected the House Republicans’ EPA provision, and would almost certainly do the same regarding the Planned Parenthood amendment, which saves only $330 million but targets much-needed services for low-income families, such as preventative healthcare and cancer screenings (for more on the Title X program, read this primer from HHS). “We’re on the runway now and waiting for the speaker to come in for a landing,” Senator Chuck Schumer said today. “We have an agreement in principle…. We pretty much have a consensus on the cuts and numbers…. Ideological riders that have nothing to do with the deficit are standing in our way.”

Neither party has been a profile in courage during the budget fight, as I wrote yesterday. Republicans have been heartlessly stubborn and Democrats timid and afraid to fight back. President Obama has been MIA throughout much of this discussion and has failed to use the bully pulpit to promote a coherent economic message. But it’s now clear that Obama and Democrats badly want to work out a compromise deal, and Republicans do not (the latest polling underscores the split between Democrats/Independents and Republicans on this issue). If House Republicans force a government shutdown because of their dislike for Planned Parenthood and the EPA, they will deservedly get the bulk of the blame for the current budget morass. 

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