Today, the Senate is expected to approve a temporary budget bill that will stave off a government shutdown until March 18. The interim bill, which the House passed yesterday, would cut $4 billion in spending, and comes just days ahead of the March 4 deadline, when current financing runs out. It gives the government another two weeks to hammer out a long-term budget bill--meaning the real fighting is largely still to come.
Nearly all of that $4 billion comes from programs everyone agrees are wasteful. This isn't an accident: Congressional Republicans designed the bill, and they tried to slash funding in a way that would make for easy compromises with Democrats. This may be because they're hoping for additional leverage in the upcoming negotiations, or because they recognize that a government shutdown would hurt both parties politically.
Government employees are probably grateful they won't be furloughed this week, but Aaron Blake and Chris Cillizza at The Washington Post point out that the new bill "is merely kicking the can down the road... The real budget fight still looms in the immediate future."
And that fight's not likely to be pretty. Republicans have drawn up a plan to cut $61 billion in federal spending, which some analysts say would threaten economic recovery (though this is an assessment Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke disagrees with). Democrats are vocally opposed to the $61-billion plan, and Obama has talked about vetoing it. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid seems to want Obama to take a more central role in the budget fight: The New York Times quotes Reid as saying, "The president's going to take this to the American people."
Meanwhile, the Times also reports that "one senior Senate Republican official predicted Tuesday that at least one more temporary budget bill was in the cards before any final agreement." So for anyone who was concerned that Congress seemed to be moving forward and getting things done, worry not.