WASHINGTON -- Nevada's federal lawmakers exhaled with relief late Friday that a government shutdown had been averted at the same time leaders had put together a compromise over federal spending to carry through the year.
"It has been a grueling process," a relieved Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said in announcing the deal less than an hour before funding would have expired for federal agencies.
"We didn't do it at this late hour for the drama," Reid said. "We did it because it has been very hard to arrive at this point."
The Nevadan was one of the public faces on the negotiations that were conducted at all hours, and sometimes around the clock, in the days leading to the Friday deadline that he and President Barack Obama insisted be kept as a way to instill urgency for a deal.
"It has not been an easy process. Both sides have had to make tough choices. But tough choices is what this job's all about," Reid said.
The result, he said, was a "historic level" of spending cuts, about $38 billion, that will force new discipline and some painful outcomes in government agencies in the six months remaining in fiscal 2011.
And yet, the contentious process to cull the current year budget was just the opening act as Congress and Obama now set out to tackle even larger budget and spending problems for fiscal 2012 and the years ahead. Those will involve debate over huge and entrenched programs such as Medicare and Medicaid.
Freshman Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev., said he has been cautiously optimistic that a shutdown would be avoided "but my optimism was waning as I saw the clock tick away."
"I tell you, talk about cutting it down to the wire."
Heck said he was satisfied Republicans got the best deal they could out of the grueling talks. The initial GOP spending bill for fiscal 2011 contained $60 billion in cuts. The compromise netted $38.5 billion in cuts.
"We got in with getting as large a spending cut as we could, which is what we wanted," Heck said. "This was not about shutting down the government. This was about decreasing the spending."
Republicans "are one-half of one-third of the government but we got two-thirds of what we wanted, so that is a good night's work," Heck said.
Heck said rank and file Republicans were told at a briefing that some of the policy riders that the GOP had added to the bill during debate in February were accepted by Democrats and will remain in the final bill.
Others were dropped although Heck said lawmakers were not told specifically which ones were in and which ones were out.
Some of the most controversial and highly publicized riders, such as GOP bids to defund the health care reform bill and to cut off federal support for Planned Parenthood, were dropped, Heck said.
Instead, Democrats agreed to bring them up for separate votes in the Senate, where at least they will receive further debate, he said.
One of the provisions in the House Republican bill directed the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to revive its consideration of the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste project in Nevada. Its fate could not be immediately determined.
Heck said House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, was given a standing ovation after he outlined the deal to the rest of the GOP members, and nobody complained about it, at least not publicly.
Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., said that "at the eleventh hour, partisan politics were set aside for the good of the country."
"However, even with what appears to be an acceptable budget deal, a lot remains to be done to get our fiscal house in order," Ensign said in a statement.
Rep. Dean Heller, R-Nev., did not rush to endorse the agreement.
"In the next few days I plan to closely examine the budget deal," Heller said in a statement. "The bottom line is our country has a spending problem and we have a long way to go to get our fiscal house in order."
The House voted 348-70 after midnight to keep the government running until next Thursday while the agreement is committed to legislation. Twenty-eight Republicans and 42 Democrats voted against granting the extension.
Heck and Heller voted for the extension. Rep. Shelley Berkley. D-Nev., did not vote, and it could not be immediately determined why.
Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at email@example.com or 202-783-1760.