WASHINGTON-Congressional leaders and President Obama agreed they need to act promptly to avoid a government shutdown while Washington continues to grapple with how to address across-the-board spending cuts that kick in by the end of the day Friday.
"I think it's the right thing to do to make sure that we don't have a government shutdown, and that's preventable," the president told reporters at a press conference.
The current funding for the federal government runs out March 27. Without congressional action before then the nation would be facing a second blow to the economy -- a government shutdown on top of the deep spending cuts known as a sequester.
"There's no reason why we should have another crisis by shutting the government down in addition to these arbitrary spending cuts," Obama said.
Congressional leaders agreed. "The president and leaders agreed legislation should be enacted this month to prevent a government shutdown while we continue to work on a solution to replace the president's sequester," announced House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, following the private meeting.
Added Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.: "Certainly we don't want to have a shutdown of government."
However, there is no final agreement yet on how exactly to avoid a shutdown.
House Republicans are preparing legislation for a vote next week to fund the government through the end of the fiscal year, Sept. 30. The GOP will attach two bills to the $1.043 trillion spending package that will allow the Pentagon more flexibility to implement the automatic cuts that are required by the sequester. Pelosi did not say whether Democrats would embrace this approach.
About $85 billion in cuts must be implemented from Friday through Sept. 30. The cuts affect most reaches of the federal government, except for military personnel accounts and the social safety net. Over the course of the next decade, the cuts will trim $1.2 trillion from federal spending.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a statement that Republicans would ensure the funding for the remainder of the year reflected the sequester spending levels, but lawmakers would seek ways to "make spending reductions more intelligently" than the across-the-board style of the sequester.
While the Friday meeting secured a broad agreement to avoid a shutdown fight, there was no consensus on how to replace the sequester. Obama and congressional Democrats want to use a combination of revenue and cuts to supplant the sequester, while Republicans are seeking only cuts and entitlement change as an alternative.