With time growing short, President Barack Obama said Wednesday night that he remains confident that a government shutdown can be avoided this weekend if negotiators can build on constructive talks held at the White House.
Differences remain despite the progress, but Obama announced that talks would continue through the night in hopes of avoiding a government shutdown this weekend.
"It's going to require a sufficient sense of urgency," Obama said, "to complete a deal and get it passed and avert a shutdown."
|President Barack Obama speaks to reporters at the White House in Washington after meeting with House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., regarding the budget and possible government shutdown, Wednesday, April 6, 2011|
Obama emerged before reporters to declare his differences with the House Republicans were narrowing but that both sides were still stuck in an impasse.
"I thought the meetings were frank, they were constructive, and what they did was narrow the issues and clarify the issues that are still outstanding," Obama said. "I remain confident that if we're serious about getting something done, we should be able to complete a deal and get it passed and avert a shutdown. But it's going to require a sufficient sense of urgency from all parties involved.'"`
After the White House session, Boehner said, "We did have a productive conversation this evening. We do have some honest differences, but I do think we made some progress. But I want to reiterate: There is no agreement on a number and there's no agreement on the policy matters. But there's an attempt on both sides to continue to work together to try to resolve this."
The pressure built Wednesday as Boehner announced House Republicans would approve a stopgap spending bill blending $12 billion in new domestic spending cuts with the full-year Pentagon budget as the price for keeping the government open for another week.
Boehner's move appeared aimed at shifting political blame if a shutdown occurs, but it angered Democrats who felt that talks were progressing.
"I think this is the responsible thing to do for the U.S. Congress, and I would hope the Senate can pass it and the president can sign it into law," Boehner said.
He also criticized Obama, though saying he likes the commander in chief personally. "The president isn't leading," Boehner said. "He didn't lead on last year's budget, and he's not leading on this year's budget."
Obama has already ruled out the weeklong measure Republicans intend to push through the House, and Senate Democrats have labeled it a non-starter. Republican officials said the details of the bill could yet change. But passage of any interim measure is designed to place the onus on the Democratic-controlled Senate to act if a shutdown is to be avoided.
The White House used its unmatched megaphone to emphasize the stakes involved in the negotiations, arranging a briefing for the presidential press corps on the ramifications of a partial government shutdown.
The officials who spoke did so on condition of anonymity, under rules set by White House aides eager to apply pressure to congressional negotiators.
The officials said that military personnel at home and abroad would receive one week's pay instead of two in their next checks. Among those affected would be troops in Iraq, Afghanistan and the region around Libya.
Tax audits would be suspended — welcome news to some, no doubt — but there were unhappy tidings for others. Income tax returns filed on paper would pile up at the IRS, and refunds would be delayed as a result.
National parks would close, as would the Smithsonian Institution and its world-class collection of museums clustered along the National Mall within sight of the Capitol. Officials were less clear about the Cherry Blossom Festival, scheduled for this weekend in Washington.
NASA spokesman Bob Jacobs said he was unable to predict what the impact would be on preparations for the shuttle Endeavour's flight on April 29, or Atlantis' trip into space on June 28.
As for the broader talks, it appeared progress had been made both on spending cuts demanded by Republicans and on a series of unrelated provisions they attached to legislation that was approved almost six weeks ago.
A House-passed measure called for $61 billion in cuts, and until recently, the two sides had been working on a framework for $33 billion. Boehner pronounced that insufficient on Tuesday, and floated a $40 billion figure instead.
Democrats disputed any suggestion that they had acceded to that, but some, speaking privately, conceded they were willing to go higher than $33 billion, based on the make-up of the cuts included.
"I think we've made some progress. But we're not finished, not by a long shot," Boehner told reporters after a closed-door meeting with the Republican rank and file, the second of the week he has called as he maneuvers his way through the first significant test for a rambunctious new majority determined to cut spending.
Reid offered no details in an early morning speech that jabbed Boehner.
The House Budget Committee, meanwhile, approved on a party-line vote a $3.5 trillion GOP budget for 2012 that culls deep savings from domestic programs while reducing, but not eliminating, the deficit over the next decade.
Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, second-ranking in the Democratic leadership structure, hinted at movement in the talks. "There's been a direct negotiation — things put on the table that had not been discussed before — and I think we're moving" toward' agreement.
Apart from the spending cuts, Republicans are demanding Democrats and the White House accept at least some of the conservative policy provisions included in the earlier legislation.
Democrats have already ruled out agreeing to stop funding the year-old health care overhaul or to deny Planned Parenthood all federal money. And Reid has said he will not agree to any of the curbs Republicans want to place on the Environmental Protection Agency.
While the political wheels turned, hundreds of demonstrators rallied outside the Capitol calling for budget cuts and a shutdown if necessary to get them.
"Shut the sucker down," one yelled, and the crowd repeatedly chanted, "Shut it down."