After the shutdown battle: What now?

The battle ended in a draw, but more fights lie ahead

The news late Friday that Congress had forestalled a shutdown of the federal government provoked a huge sigh of relief, especially from federal employees who had worried about losing pay for the duration. But the drama isn't over yet: Although Democrats and Republicans said they had reached an agreement on a bill to fund the remainder of fiscal 2011, they still must pass it and the president must sign it.

Congress passed another short-term measure to keep things running for this week, but if the longer-term budget runs into problems, the threat will return.

So for now, the government is still on edge, with catastrophe postponed briefly but the final resolution still pending. As Congress neared passage of the latest continuing resolution, Office of Management and Budget Director Jacob Lew issued a directive to agencies to continue operating normally.

In an editorial, the Los Angeles Times rhetorically asked whether the deal could still be derailed. "In theory yes, but in reality, it's very unlikely," the editorial concluded. "The leaders seem to have the votes to pass the compromise, but there is sure to be some drama in order to make  political points. Some lawmakers will dissent from the compromise either because they feel it didn’t go far enough in cutting spending or it went too far in cutting needed programs."

Stephen Stromberg, writing in the Washington Post, pointed out that more battles are coming: whether to raise the debt ceiling, and probably more importantly for people who would be affected by a shutdown, the 2012 budget.

"But we aren’t necessarily through with shutdown scares this year, and Friday's deal may make them more likely," Stromberg wrote."It absolves the brinksmanship that led to it, rewarding Republican leaders for saying no until the last minute with more spending cuts than Democrats said they were willing to approve. It has fueled a nasty back-and-forth between the parties that encourages mistrust. These factors, combined with the fact that the speaker will have to convince his Tea Party wing to swallow the deal by promising bigger fights in the future, could make this sort of behavior more probable later, when the stakes are higher."

So federal employees are justified to be relieved by the latest news, but should brace themselves for more.

"Historians call the beginning of World War II 'The Phony War,'" wrote Matthew Cooper in the National Journal. "After the Nazis invaded Poland in September of 1939, Great Britain and her allies declared war on Germany. But their armies didn’t really clash until May 1940. ... What we’ve just seen is a phony war in Washington, a quibble over a few billion that presages the fight over trillions."

For now, government continues to operate normally, and all signs suggest that by later this week things will be secure for the rest of the fiscal year. But that's only slightly more than five months. What happens then is anybody's guess.

About the Author

Technology journalist Michael Hardy is a former FCW editor.

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