No deal yet: Obama, Boehner, Reid continue talks

Published 10:31 pm Thursday, April 7, 2011

Still at odds as a shutdown looms, House Speaker John Boehner and President Barack Obama on Thursday failed to reach a deal to keep the government running, but talks will continue. The House’s plan for a stopgap measure was met with a veto threat by Obama.

Boehner, addressing reporters on the White House driveway after the talks, said “all of us sincerely believe that we can get to an agreement.” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, also in the negotiations, said another meeting with the president would happen later in the day.

“We’ll see you back here at 7 o’clock,” Reid said. All sides are working on a last-minute deal to avert a partial government shutdown that looms at midnight Friday.

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There was no immediate comment from Obama or his staff.

Boehner said he asked Obama to sign a stopgap measure the House passed Thursday afternoon that would fund the government for one more week, make $12 billion in cuts, and fully fund the Pentagon through September. The speaker said he expressed his direct disappointment to Obama that the president intended to veto the bill if it ever got to his desk.

But Obama calls the measure a distraction from negotiations on a full-year spending bill and has promised he would veto it. It’s unlikely to ever reach him. The partisan House vote sent the measure to the Democratic Senate, where Democrats say they will let it perish.

After the White House meeting, Boehner said, “There is no agreement on a number, there’s no agreement on the policy issues.” 

Republicans blasted Democrats for refusing to guarantee that pay to troops overseas wouldn’t be delayed and sought to blame them for the possibility of a government shutdown. Democrats said it was past time to complete negotiations on the full-year funding bill and complained about a provision in the House bill banning taxpayer-financed abortions in Washington, D.C.

Obama said in an earlier statement he believes “we need to put politics aside and work out our differences” on a spending plan that covers the government through September, when the current budget year ends.

For Boehner and Reid, it was the second sit-down with the president in a little more than 12 hours.

The developments amounted to a sour turn in talks that all three men said Wednesday night were showing promise.

Obama has already signed two stopgap bills, containing a total of $10 billion in cuts, to allow time for negotiations on a bill to close out the budget year.

Republicans want more cuts as part of any deal, bringing the total to perhaps $40 billion, as well as non-spending items that would curtail the reach of the Environmental Protection Agency and cut off federal funding for Planned Parenthood.

Before departing the Capitol, Boehner urged the House to pass legislation to cut $12 billion, fund the Pentagon through the end of the year and keep the government running for a week.

“There is absolutely no policy reason for the Senate to not follow the House in taking these responsible steps to support our troops and to keep our government open,” he said.

Boehner accused the White House of backsliding, adding that there hadn’t been as much progress as it appeared after the late-night meeting Wednesday.

“It’s really just more of the same. We’re going to have real spending cuts. I don’t know what some people don’t understand about this,” he said.

Reid made it clear that he, too, wants to avoid a shutdown that the White House says would cause problems for combat troops overseas and delay Internal Revenue Service refunds for some taxpayers at home.

“The issue is ideology, not numbers,” he said.

He criticized Republican proposals to limit the authority of the Environmental Protection Agency and prohibit the use of federal or local funds to pay for most abortions in the District of Columbia.

“These matters have no place on a budget bill,” he said.

California Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the House democratic leader, took issue with the Republicans’ decision to include defense money in the bill.

“For them to want to disguise their bad proposal by hiding behind our troops is really a disservice to our troops,” she said.

Despite Reid’s assertion that the two sides largely had agreed on spending cuts, Boehner said partial agreements were not possible.

Boehner recently floated $40 billion in cuts, more than the $33 billion that the negotiators had adopted as a framework. But it was less than the $61 billion in a House-passed bill.

Other policy issues pressed by Republicans include blocking money to put in place Obama’s health care bill; effectively stripping the EPA from enforcing rules on global warming and cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay and lakes in Florida; and limiting enforcement of last year’s financial overhaul law.

Obama emerged from the negotiations late Wednesday night to declare that differences between Republicans and Democrats had narrowed somewhat. He also said only urgent action could avert a shutdown.

Even a brief shutdown could affect a wide range of Americans, from troops fighting abroad who are awaiting their pay to tourists planning trips to national parks.

The move by Boehner to advance a one-week interim budget measure angered his Democratic negotiating counterparts. It appeared aimed at shifting political blame if a shutdown occurs. The announcement of Thursday’s vote angered Democrats who felt talks were progressing.

It’s also about the last piece of leverage Boehner had, using the Pentagon budget to put political pressure on Democrats and to seek to blame them for a shutdown. But after a shutdown, Boehner’s options appear to become more limited.