WASHINGTON -- Time growing short, President Barack Obama and congressional leaders failed to reach agreement last night on a compromise to cut spending and head off a government shutdown midnight Friday that no one claimed to want.
Obama, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) all said the differences had been narrowed in a pair of White House meetings during the day. They directed their aides to work through the night in pursuit of a deal.
"I expect an answer in the morning," Obama said in an appearance in the White House briefing room shortly after the meeting ended.
The comments capped a day in which the president, Reid and Boehner bargained and blustered by turns, struggling to settle their differences over spending cuts and other issues at the same time they maneuvered to avoid any political blame if they failed.
With the economy just beginning to create jobs in large numbers, the president said a shutdown would damage the recovery, adding that "for us to go backwards because Washington couldn't get its act together is just unacceptable."
With an agreement elusive, Republicans passed legislation through the House to fund the Pentagon for six months, cut $12 billion in domestic spending and keep the federal bureaucracy humming for an additional week.
"There is absolutely no policy reason for the Senate to not follow the House in taking these responsible steps to support our troops and to keep our government open," Boehner said.
But Obama flashed a veto threat even before the bill passed on a 247-181, mostly party-line vote. The administration issued a statement calling it "a distraction from the real work" of agreeing on legislation to cover the six months left in the current fiscal year, and there was no indication Reid would allow a vote on it.
At the White House, a senior budget official said the impact of a shutdown "will be immediately felt on the economy." It also would be felt unevenly, said Jeff Zients, deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget. Military troops would not receive their full paychecks, but Social Security recipients would still get monthly benefits, he said.
"National parks, national forests and the Smithsonian Institution would all be closed. The NIH Clinical Center will not take new patients, and no new clinical trials will start," he added in a roll call of expected agency closings.
But the air traffic control system would stay up and running, the emergency management agency would still respond to natural disasters and border security would not be affected.
It was unclear whether the day's maneuvering marked attempts by negotiators to gain final concessions before reaching agreement, or represented a significant setback to efforts to avoid a shutdown.