With a government shutdown an increasing possibility given that Republicans and Democrats are still far apart on budget talks, it's important to keep in mind that what makes a compromise particularly difficult is that it isn't just about money, but also about a number of hot button policy issues.
House Republicans added a series of amendments to the spending bill they passed that would deny funding for the implementation of the national health care law, strip federal funding from Planned Parenthood and block the Environmental Protection Agency from using its funding to regulate carbon emissions among other things.
If you spend a few years in Washington, you know not to pay too much attention to the public statements of lawmakers during negotiations, because there's a lot of posturing and they are often using the media to advance their negotiating strategy. Often, the acrimony is intense and the two sides seem impossibly far apart, and suddenly they cut a deal at the last minute. That said, these policy differences are a real obstacle.
If the dispute were just about money, it would be significantly easier to just meet somewhere in the middle -- say at $30 billion or $40 billion in cuts for the remainder of the 2011 year, with Republicans promising steeper cuts in the fiscal year 2012 budget expected next week. But when you're dealing with an issue such as federal funding for the nation's largest abortion provider, it becomes a lot more difficult for either side to sell a compromise to their bases. Try being a Democratic Senator who voted for a bill to strip Planned Parenthood's federal funding under GOP pressure, and then think of how you find 13 Democratic Senators who would support such a measure. Then imagine the same thing for ObamaCare or carbon regulation. Of course, on the flip side, if you're Speaker John Boehner, the only way to pass a House budget bill without these GOP amendments would be to push to strip them, and then have a closed amendment process when it comes to a floor vote. If there's an open amendment process, those amendments would certainly pass again, because it won't be easy to find dozens of Republican House members willing to vote against defunding ObamaCare, Planned Parenthood, or the EPA.