Is a looming government shutdown unavoidable?

IS A LOOMING GOVERNMENT SHUTDOWN UNAVOIDABLE?…. Last week, facing the latest in a series of deadlines, there was bipartisan support for another budget extension, funding the federal government through April 8. It gave policymakers three weeks to craft a deal that would finance the rest of the fiscal year, and discussions have been quietly ongoing.

So, has there been any progress? Not really.

Yesterday morning, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) expressed some optimism, saying he’s “feeling better” about the prospects for a larger compromise than he had been. As for completing a package that would prevent a shutdown in the short term, Schumer added he’s seen “some progress.”

A few hours later, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) issued a statement saying the negotiations are going nowhere, and said Democrats who refuse to give Republicans what they want should be blamed.

By late yesterday, everyone involved in the process agreed on only one thing: this process isn’t going well.

With time running short and budget negotiations this week having reached an angry impasse, Congressional leaders are growing increasingly pessimistic about reaching a bipartisan deal that would avert a government shutdown in early April.

Senior Democratic officials involved in high-level efforts to bring House Republicans, Senate Democrats and the White House to a budget agreement said that while some progress had been made toward an accord on an overall level of spending cuts, the parties remained divided on the final figure and had to resolve the fate of ideologically charged policy provisions demanded by House conservatives.

Republicans remain unwilling to go “too far below” the $61 billion in economy-hurting cuts approved by the House; they’re reluctant to debate which parts of the budget the cuts can come from; and the notion of combining cuts with some modest tax increases on the wealthy — an idea with broad public support — has been deemed entirely out of the question by the GOP.

Talks also suffered a major setback on Tuesday when Republican negotiators blindsided Democrats, refusing to consider the existing stopgap plan as a budget benchmark, despite previous agreements.

And then, there’s the “rider” issue. As if it weren’t quite difficult enough to reach an agreement on the size of the cuts, and determine which programs would face the knife, there are also unrelated policy amendments that would restrict federal agencies’ actions.

For example, instead of passing a bill to stop the EPA from monitoring for clean air and water, Republicans are demanding that the budget include a rider to give them what they want. And, the GOP says, they’ll shut down the government unless they get the riders and the cuts. While Democrats consider these measures immediate deal-breakers, a leading House Republican aide insisted this week, “A bill without any riders cannot pass the House.”

And a bill with riders cannot pass the Senate.

There are 13 days left to work something out, but given the extremism and inflexibility of the hysterical House Republican caucus, I can’t find anyone who thinks a deal is likely. As a quantitative matter, I’d say the likelihood of a shutdown on April 8 is at least 85%, if not higher.

Thanks again, midterm voters, for electing radicals and putting us in this mess.