White House, GOP Fail To Reach Budget Agreement
By Liz Halloran
Senate Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) speaks with reporters on Capitol Hill Tuesday. (Brendan Smialowski / Getty Images)
A partial shutdown of the U.S. government appeared increasingly imminent Tuesday as White House talks between President Obama and congressional leaders ended — publicly, at least — in stalemate.
"No agreement was reached," House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) said after the hourlong meeting — a last-ditch effort to prevent a shutdown Friday when a temporary government spending measure expires at midnight.
In an unscheduled appearance before White House reporters just hours after the summit, Obama insisted that a deal on current-year funding is still possible this week — as long as all parties involved "act like grown-ups" and agree to compromise.
(Alex Wong / Getty Images)
He pledged to bring congressional leaders back to the White House if further meetings fail to resolve the impasse.
"Everybody's got to take a haircut," Obama said. "Nobody gets 100 percent of what they want. We have more than met the Republicans halfway at this point."
Boehner met Tuesday evening with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) in a session that Reid's office called "productive." Reid's office, in a statement, said the two men agreed to continue working on a solution. A Reid spokesman said that, barring anything unforeseen, no more developments were expected Tuesday.
The president also rejected a GOP proposal to keep government funded for another week, if Democrats agree to cut $12 billion in the current year's budget. Congress over the past six months has already passed six temporary funding measures to keep to keep government open.
"We are now at the point where there is no excuse to extend this further," Obama said.
Obama and Senate Democrats have agreed to $73 billion in cuts from the administration's original budget proposal. It's the same amount in cuts, he said, that Boehner first proposed before the restive GOP House caucus demanded cuts totaling $100 billion, and policy additions, known as riders, that would specifically defund programs including Planned Parenthood, NPR and the Environmental Protection Agency.
"We have now matched the number that the speaker originally sought," Obama said, though disagreement remains on what would be cut.
Boehner, in comments from Capitol Hill immediately following the president's appearance in the West Wing, said that "our goal is to keep the government open. We want the largest spending cuts that are possible."
However, Boehner added, the policy riders, which Obama characterized as ideological deal-breakers, are as important to Republican members as spending cuts.
The dueling press conferences signaled the intensity of the crisis, the developing brinksmanship and deepening worry in both parties about how the looming shutdown is playing back home.
Obama suggested that Americans worried about jobs, gas prices and Middle East unrest "don't like these games and we don't have time for them."
"I think the American people recognize that we're in some pretty unsettled times right now," he said. "Certainly businesses recognize that. Families recognize it. We don't have time for games. We don't have time for trying to score political points or maneuvering or positioning. Not on this."
Boehner, who characterized the White House proposal as smoke and mirrors, said Republicans "want an agreement and we want to keep the government open."
According to Boehner's office, the speaker "told the president that the House will not be put in a box and forced to choose between two options that are bad for the country."
Boehner characterized those options as accepting a current-year budget deal that doesn't contain House Republican-supported cuts, or shutting down the government "due to Senate inaction."
Also attending the meeting were Reid and the chairmen of the House and Senate appropriations committees.
The impasse between House Republicans and Senate Democrats and the White House over cuts in current fiscal year spending centers on the "composition of those cuts," White House spokesman Jay Carney said.
"Republicans would prefer deep cuts in education, medical research, community health centers," he said. "We believe there are other opportunities for cuts."
Carney listed transportation and "pork barrel" projects as areas that could be cut.
And as members of Congress bicker, surveys show that the American people are divided over whom they would blame for a shutdown.
A new Washington Post poll found that 37 percent of those surveyed would blame Obama, and 37 percent would blame Republicans. And 15 percent said they would blame "both."
After wresting control of the chamber from Democrats in November, House Republicans passed a 2011 spending bill in February. The action, sparked by budget-cutting fervor accompanying many new Tea Party-fueled GOP members, came nearly two months after the fiscal year began without the Democratic-controlled Congress approving a spending plan.
Their bill, $1.3 billion lower than the president's fiscal 2011 request, was rejected by the Senate. The Senate has not passed a budget measure of its own.
With the apparent collapse of talks, both the White House and congressional leaders began to prepare for what would be the first shutdown of the federal government since 1995. That's when a budget dispute between President Bill Clinton and then-GOP House Speaker Newt Gingrich forced nonessential federal offices to close.
The Office of Management and Budget has issued a memo that directs federal agency officials to formulate shutdown contingency plans. Congressional leaders are also asking their members to begin planning for a potential closure, including how or whether they would staff their offices.
Obama had sought to project optimism before the morning meeting, a seemingly last-ditch effort to avoid a government shutdown.
The president "feels very strongly that an agreement is within reach," Carney said before the president's closed-door meeting with the congressional leaders.
"If everyone is reasonable," Carney said, "we can get a deal done."
Reid has asserted that the GOP's House Tea Party caucus has contributed to the impasse by pushing measures that meet ideological and not deficit-cutting aims. He called some of the proposed cuts, including those to Planned Parenthood and family planning programs, irresponsible.
Meanwhile, while the White House talks were failing, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), chairman of the House Budget Committee, rolled out his 2012 spending blueprint. The plan, which over 10 years is estimated to cost $6.2 trillion less than Obama's proposal, would slash discretionary spending and remake how the nation pays for Medicaid and Medicare, and who is eligible.
It would also strip funding for the Democrats' health care reform legislation, which Obama signed into law a year ago.
The goal, Ryan said in a press conference, is to leave a "debt-free nation" to future generations.
Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), ranking member of the House Budget Committee, criticized Ryan's plan as "the rigid ideological agenda that extends tax cuts to the rich and powerful at the expense of the rest of America."
It was the opening bell in the coming battle over the 2012 budget. Congress has six months to figure that one out before the current-year spending plan — if and when there is one — expires.