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What Congress has to do to avert a late-March government shutdown

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What will Congress have to get done? Two parallel but interconnected issues are roiling Capitol Hill right now. The first is the sequester, more than $1 trillion in spending cuts over the next decade that saw its first $85 billion installment begin on March 1. The second is the need to fund the federal government beyond March 27, when legislation keeping the federal bureaucracy churning comes to an end.

Because the politically controversial sequester affects the level of government spending, these two issues are logically joined at the hip. Yet the leaders shepherding government funding bills on both sides of the Capitol – House Appropriations Committee head Hal Rogers (R) of Kentucky and Senate Appropriations chairman Barbara Mikulski (D) of Maryland – are fighting like mad to keep the toxic politics of the former from affecting the latter.

“This bill has to focus on funding levels,” Senator Mikulski told reporters just outside the Senate chamber, deflecting a question about whether she would add to her forthcoming legislation provisions such as unfreezing government pay, favored by President Obama. “If we keep our focus on the fact that this is not to deal with all the pent-up demand [for various policy additions and instead] keep it as simple, as clear, and as straightforward as we can,” the measure will succeed, she said.

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