By Mary Milliken
WASHINGTON, April 7 (Reuters) - When it comes to a government shutdown, Americans can surely live with federal employees powering down their BlackBerrys at 12:01 a.m. Saturday. They can make other plans if the Smithsonian museums and national parks like Yosemite are closed. But not paying troops on the front lines of Iraq and Afghanistan just won't fly - and that's why it's an extra-hot issue.
Most soldiers, sailors and Marines don't need much money in the field. But their families back home do, for big expenses like mortgages and basic things like food. The real question for Americans would be: Is this how we want to treat our men and women in uniform who are putting their lives on the line? You don't need a pollster to tell you that the resounding answer would be "no."
As Washington Extra goes to press, we might be hours from a deal that would avert the shutdown and ensure those military paychecks keep rolling out to those in service. But if no deal is reached, then expect some sharp finger-pointing over this issue.
The Democrats can blame Republicans for refusing to budge on an overall budget deal and the Republicans can blame President Barack Obama for refusing to consider a new stop-gap bill. But in a country that loves its troops, politicians with their eye on 2012 elections should be doing everything to avoid getting stuck in this minefield.
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Here are our top stories from Washington:
Congress pushes for final budget deal
With time running out, an ideological fight in the Congress over abortion and environmental issues threatened on Thursday to derail an agreement to avert a government shutdown. The mood swung between optimism and pessimism as Democratic and Republican leaders held a whirlwind series of private meetings and public news conferences through the day to plead their case for a budget deal that would keep the government operating beyond midnight on Friday. [ID:nN07296632]
Boehner-Reid relationship key to budget deal
Hard-nosed rivals with tough backgrounds, John Boehner and Harry Reid are locked in a bitter fight over spending cuts but aides say they have a good relationship that may offer the best hope of avoiding a government shutdown. [ID:nN07108975]
Do Republicans have a dark horse candidate?
A scattered field of potential Republican presidential candidates with no clear front-runner for 2012 has raised the question: Is there anybody else out there? This year, the closest to an establishment front-runner is former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, who lost to John McCain in 2008 and who will again face questions about whether he is conservative enough for Republican primary voters. [ID:nN07267412]
Libya stalemate emerging, US general says
A stalemate appears to be emerging in Libya between rebels and forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi but the United States should not make any decision to arm the rebels without knowing more about them, a top general said. President Obama has ruled out sending ground forces and top administration officials have stressed the limits of American involvement in what could become a protracted civil war. Obama has called for Gaddafi to leave but has insisted the United States will not use military force to oust him. [ID:nN07119393]
U.S. jobless claims fall, retail sales stronger
New claims for jobless benefits fell last week and retailers racked up much stronger-than-expected sales in March, signs that high fuel prices have not knocked the economy off its growth path. Other data showed shoppers shrugged off higher gasoline prices last month to boost sales at many retailers as improving labor market conditions encouraged discretionary spending. [ID:nN0784911]
Obama claim shutdown to hit housing may be off mark
President Obama's warning that a government shutdown might prevent many Americans from obtaining a mortgage may be more of a negotiating tactic than reality. A shutdown is not without risks. But unless it drags on for many weeks -- an unlikely worst-case scenario -- home buyers would probably see little more than a brief delay in processing mortgages. [ID:nN07110047]
Trading charges spur US FDA data protections
The FDA is moving to bolster protection of commercially sensitive data after an agency chemist was charged with using inside information to illegally make millions in stock trades. FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg, in a memo provided to Reuters, told employees she had taken steps to address "potential vulnerabilities" in the way the agency handles information electronically. The agency houses details about upcoming drug decisions that can make or break a pharmaceutical company's fortunes. [ID:nN07116879]
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