On Friday, the White House signaled it would sign a continuing resolution to extend government spending beyond a March 27th deadline. Previously, it was assumed the expiration of the current resolution authorizing government spending at the end of the month would presage another budget fight that could result in a government shutdown. Obama has passed on having that fight.
The Senate hasn’t produced a budget in four years. As a result, the government has been operating under a series of continuing resolutions. These generally extend all current government programs for a certain period of time, with a modest increase in appropriations. It basically puts the government on auto-pilot, with a certain percentage increase in spending.
The continuing resolution currently funding government expires on March 27th. If it isn’t extended by that date, government agencies’ authority to spend money would expire and the government, with the exception of some emergency services and personnel, would shut down.
It was widely expected that a debate over a new continuing resolution would center around negotiations to offset the sequester cuts, that have now been triggered. The White House’s desire to avoid that debate is a clear sign that it doesn’t expect the sequester cuts to have taken a broad impact by the end of the month.
The White House ultimately wants to use any public outcry over the cuts to win passage of new tax increases. Avoiding a fight on the continuing resolution is evidence they believe they will need more time to sway public opinion. This position is in stark contrast to the Dickensian nightmare they predicted just days ago when the cuts were set to take effect.
The White House move is also a temporary truce in the budget wars between Congress and the Administration. It looks like the fight will resume sometime in May, when the nation again brushes up against the debt ceiling. Enjoy the Spring thaw while you can.