Trading sequester to avoid a government shutdown?

The sequestration cuts hit on Friday, but that may not be the biggest worry on either end of Pennsylvania Avenue.  By the last week of March, the continuing resolution that provides funding for the federal government expires — and without another CR or completed budget, that means everything shuts down, and not just the few job functions that the White House is using for its Nightmare on Sequester Street hysterics.  The Wall Street Journal reports that talks on the sequester have shifted to avoiding a government shutdown — and largely accepting the sequester:

Already looking past the current budget impasse gripping the capital, congressional leaders are quietly considering a deal to avert a government shutdown next month—but at the cost of prolonging across-the-board spending cuts.

Attention is beginning to shift from Friday, when the broad cuts known as the sequester kick in, to the next budget deadline: Congress must pass a so-called continuing resolution by the end of March to keep funding government operations.

Senior aides to House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) have begun discussing a bill being prepared by House Republicans to fund government operations through September. Republicans want the bill to extend operating funds at the lower levels set to kick in Friday and to give more flexibility to the Pentagon to manage its cuts.

The White House objects to the lower baseline for the CR negotiations, but Democrats may not have much choice but to accept it:

A White House official said the administration wouldn’t go along with such a plan to extend the lower spending levels. And Democrats are insisting that the House GOP bill also give new latitude to domestic agencies as well as the Pentagon.

But an aide to Senate Democratic leaders said such a measure might be politically difficult for the lawmakers to oppose, lest they bear the blame for shutting down the government.

“There’s an emerging consensus that it would be a difficult battle to have,” said the Senate leadership aide. “I don’t think we could force a shutdown.”

That is the benefit of having control of one chamber of Congress.  John Boehner can pass bills that fund government and readjust the sequester to give the White House more control over spending the limited funds.  If the Senate doesn’t act, it won’t be the Republicans who are the obstructionists this time around, and they won’t be the party responsible for a government shutdown.

The House GOP have a weak hand, but they’re playing what they have pretty well.  They may end up notching down the baseline spending assumptions incrementally through this process and force real spending cuts in exchange for keeping the doors open.  It’s not success, but it’s at least a start, if they can pull it off.