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What now? Congress looks toward new March deadline

With the sequestration cogs now turning, in the coming weeks Congress will turn its attention to its next budget deadline on March 27, when funding for the federal government is set to expire.

Without a Continuing Resolution (CR) approved by Congress, the country could face a government shutdown in addition to the existing sequestration cuts. 

House Speaker John Boehner said Friday that he intends to bring up a CR next week that would avert a shutdown – a fight he says he would like to avoid while Congress is working to cushion the blow of the across-the-board government cuts which were set to go into effect March 1. 

“I’m hopeful that we won’t have to deal with the threat of a government shutdown while we're dealing with the sequester at the same time,” Boehner told reporters after a meeting between Congressional leaders and President Obama at the White House to discuss the budget cuts.

The CR the House will consider next week will keep spending levels the same as last year, but with the caveat that sequestration would drop that level lower if those cuts are not dealt with in the coming weeks and months. 

The Republican bill would also give flexibility to the Department of Defense and Veterans Affairs Departments in an effort to allow them to move funding around in ways that a straight extension of government funding would not. 

The CR, which would keep the government running through September, would keep government funding levels at $1.043 trillion, but because it would be subject to sequestration, the level could effectively drop to somewhere around $974 billion for the 2013 fiscal year.

House Republicans seem surprisingly galvanized around this plan, considering there was originally concern amongst conservatives that allowing any wiggle room to avoid sequestration would not be something they would support. 

Rep Mick Mulvaney, R-S.C., a notable conservative, told reporters this week that he would support the strategy, and House Republicans met as a conference on Wednesday to discuss the CR, a meeting that aides said went well.

The question is whether House and Senate Democrats will support the plan, or instead ask for more flexibility for other departments not associated with the military.

Asked today if House Democrats would support the Republican-proposed plan, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said she would have to look at the specific language of the bill before making a decision.

“It would be curious to me if at that level the Republicans can produce the votes to pass (the CR),” Pelosi told reporters, “But certainly we don't want to have a shutdown of government.”

Government funding was scheduled to expire on October 1st, 2012, but Congress passed a six-month CR in September to avoid government shutdown talks ahead of the November elections.  The bill passed the House with bipartisan support, 329-91.

NBC's Carrie Dann contributed to this report. 

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