Negotiators Work Overnight As Budget Deal Deadline Looms
With the deadline for a partial government shutdown less than 24 hours away, negotiators worked into Friday morning on a spending plan for the rest of the current fiscal year after a fourth White House meeting in 48 hours between President Barack Obama and congressional leaders failed to reach agreement.
It was the second straight night that talks involving Obama, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, led to their aides being charged with trying to work out remaining differences in the ensuing hours.
In statements to reporters, Obama and the congressional leaders all said they had narrowed their differences but conceded that more work was needed. No details of the outstanding issues were provided.
"I'm not prepared to express wild optimism," Obama said. "I think we are further along today than we were yesterday."
Obama added that he told Reid and Boehner he wanted an answer Friday morning on whether a deal would get reached, and the White House announced that Obama's planned trip Friday to Indiana to promote clean energy had been called off.
Reid said later on the Senate floor that despite all the negotiations so far, "we keep never quite getting to the finish line" of an agreement.
"I'm not really confident but I'm very, very hopeful" that a deal can reached on Friday, Reid said.
If Congress and the White House cannot reach an agreement by midnight Friday, when the current spending authorization measure expires, parts of the government will close down.
That means 800,000 government workers will be furloughed and a range of government services will halt, though essential services such as law enforcement will continue to function.
Obama noted the mechanism of shutting down government operations have started in case a deal proves elusive, which he said would hurt federal workers, people who rely on government services and the nation's economic recovery.
"For us to go backwards because Washington couldn't get its act together is unacceptable," Obama said.
It was the second meeting on Thursday involving Obama, Reid and Boehner, following similar talks on Tuesday and Wednesday.
After a midday meeting Thursday, further negotiations among congressional aides took place throughout the afternoon before Reid and Boehner returned to the White House for more talks with Obama, this time joined by Vice President Joe Biden.
In an interview with CNN before the evening meeting, Reid put the chances of a government shutdown at 50-50 and said Democrats had agreed to all the spending cuts demanded by conservative Republicans that they could.
"Enough is enough," he said.
Meanwhile, the GOP-controlled House of Representatives passed a short-term government spending bill that would delay the impending shutdown by one additional week.
The measure, which passed 247-181 in a largely party-line vote, would fund the Pentagon for the remainder of the current fiscal year. It also would slash federal spending by another $12 billion and included so-called "policy riders" that stipulate political and ideological restrictions, such as no government funding for Planned Parenthood.
However, Reid declared the short-term extension a "nonstarter," and the White House promised a veto if it reached Obama's desk.
The president "does not believe that we should sign another short-term measure that carries within it a lot of policy implications in order to kick this can down the road," White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said.
Top legislators on both sides of the aisle seemed increasingly resigned to the prospect of a shutdown as the day dragged on, and congressional staffers began receiving their furlough notices. Employees deemed "essential" during a shutdown would still be able to work; those considered "nonessential" would not.
CNNMoney: I'm a 'non-essential' worker
Reid said the differences between the two parties "are no longer on how much savings we will get on government spending."
Instead, the major obstacle was Republican insistence on including provisions that would strip Planned Parenthood funding and prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gas emissions, he said.
In a statement Thursday, Planned Parenthood noted that "by law, no federal funding for Planned Parenthood goes toward abortion."
Cutting its funding would harm programs that provide contraception, cancer screenings and help deal with sexually transmitted infections, the group said.
"A small group with an extreme political agenda is forcing a shutdown of the United States government over a dangerous proposal that would bar women from getting the life-saving health care they need," Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards said.
Boehner declared there was "no agreement on numbers and no agreement on the underlying policies," and he chided Senate Democrats for rejecting the one-week extension passed by the House.
Republican leaders are "confident that those Democrats who believe it is important to fund our troops and make real spending cuts will prevail upon Sen. Reid and our commander-in-chief to keep the government from shutting down," Boehner said.
In response, Reid said he was starting to question whether Boehner really wanted a deal.
Washington, we're done with high school.
Earlier this year, the House passed a bill that included $61 billion in cuts from current spending levels, but the measure was rejected by the Democratic-controlled Senate. Two previous extensions of the government spending resolution have included $10 billion in cuts.
A Democratic source told CNN on Thursday morning that there had been a tentative agreement to cut $34.5 billion in spending for the rest of the fiscal year, which ends September 30.
Republican sources, however, said that was incorrect and insisted that no agreement had been reached on a number.
The budget brinkmanship showed the political stakes of the situation, with both parties trying to depict the other as unwilling to do what's right for the country.
Republicans, under pressure from the conservative Tea Party movement to reduce the size of government, blame Democrats for failing to pass a fiscal year 2011 budget last year when they controlled both congressional chambers. They also say Obama and his party are ignoring the peril of rising federal deficits and national debt.
Democrats contend the $61 billion in spending cuts in the House bill would harm the nation's economic recovery and slash education and innovation programs essential for continued growth.
Obama and Reid insist that Democrats have agreed to more than 50% of the spending cuts sought by Republicans, which they said should be sufficient for a compromise on a measure that has little overall effect on the deficit and debt issues.
One of biggest obstacles to a deal involves whether reductions in mandatory spending programs, known in appropriations parlance as "changes in mandatory spending" or CHIMPS, should be part of spending cuts.
Examples of mandatory spending programs include Pell Grants, the Children's Health Insurance Program and some types of highway funding. Such programs are funded for multiple years at a time, with the spending set for the time period covered, exempt from congressional authorization each year.
Democratic sources have said they want about half the overall cuts in this spending bill to come from mandatory spending programs, and they have proposed the necessary reductions in programs at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Justice Department and the Treasury Department, and in Pell Grants.
Republicans note that reducing the spending in a mandatory program for one year doesn't prevent the amount from returning to its original level the following year.