House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) declined to speculate Friday on whether the government might be forced to shut down next week if Congress and the White House fail to hammer out a budget deal. But he said that if a shutdown were to occur, it would end up costing the government more money than it would save.
“Frankly, let’s all be honest: if you cut the government down, it will end up costing more than you’d save, because you’d interrupt contracts,” Boehner told reporters Friday at a Capitol news conference. “There are a lot of problems with the idea of shutting the government. It is not the goal. The goal is to cut spending.”
Asked about what measures he is taking to prepare his office for the possibility of a shutdown, Boehner responded: “I am not preparing for a government shutdown.”
Federal agencies spent $535 billion in fiscal 2010 on government contracts, well above levels spent during the shutdowns of the 1990s. Any impact on contracting firms would have an impact on their employees, many of whom work within government agencies. The government doesn’t track the number of contractors used by agencies, but various estimates suggest there are hundreds of thousands of them working across the country.
A few hundred tea party activists gathered on Capitol Hill Thursday to demand deeper spending cuts, chanting “Cut it or shut it!” Earlier Friday, Senate Democratic leaders held a conference call on which Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) ridiculed some of those activists, calling them a “small but loud minority.”
“There were tens of them here yesterday,” Reid said on the call. “That’s a chosen word, tens of them.”
Boehner also declined to say whether another stopgap funding measure might be necessary if negotiators don’t reach a budget deal in time to avoid a shutdown at the end of next week; Congress has passed six such short-term measures this fiscal year, with the latest one set to expire on April 8.
As he did Thursday, Boehner said that negotiations on funding the federal government are continuing to take place but reiterated that no consensus on a final dollar figure on cuts had been reached.
“There is no agreement on a number,” Boehner said. “We’re going to fight for the largest spending cuts that we can get, and I’m hopeful that we’ll get it as soon as possible.”
Senate Democratic leaders said Friday that budget negotiations would continue through the weekend and emphasized their – and the White House’s – point of view that agreement on a specific number has been reached.
“We’re calling on Speaker Boehner to sit down and in good faith work with us,” Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said on the call. “We’ve agreed on the number.”
Boehner said that he personally would not be in Washington for negotiations this weekend. “The appropriators are doing their job,” he said. “Others are involved in other conversations. And I think we want to see how this is getting along.”
Even though the ongoing budget negotiations have many on Capitol Hill feeling tense, there was a brief moment of levity on Friday – April Fool’s Day – when Boehner first approached the microphones placed in the Speaker’s Hallway to begin the news conference.
“Now, I think you probably all think we have a press conference. April Fool’s,” Boehner said, then proceeded to walk away from the microphones.
A few of the two-dozen or so reporters crammed into the hallway groaned, while some others stood stunned.
“I could never be that mean to all of you,” Boehner said as he returned to the microphones.
— Federal Eye columnist Ed O’Keefe also contributed to this report.