WASHINGTON — Congressional Republicans and Democrats remained deadlocked over government spending Wednesday as they struggled to find common ground with less than three days remaining until the government runs out of money.
President Barack Obama met Wednesday night for an hour and 15 minutes at the White House with Speaker of the House of Representatives John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. The president reported no deal, but said the meeting was "productive," and vowed "We're going to keep on pounding away at this thing."
Reid said the group had "narrowed the issues significantly," and was "hopeful that we will be able to announce a compromise agreement soon," while Boehner said "some progress" had been made. Neither provided specifics. Talks are expected to continue Thursday, and there was some optimism at the Capitol and the White House that a deal could be struck before Friday night, when current spending authority expires.
If no agreement is reached, parks, museums and monuments could be shuttered Saturday, though most federal employees — and the citizens who depend on their services — wouldn’t feel the impact until the regular workweek begins Monday. Essential employees, including postal workers and law enforcement officers, would keep working.
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Obama spoke by phone to Boehner and Reid earlier Wednesday. The president summed up the state of negotiations during a speech in Fairless Hills, Pa.: "We've agreed to a compromise, but somehow we still don't have a deal, because some folks are trying to inject politics in what should be a simple debate about how to pay our bills."
Boehner said he remained hopeful that an agreement could be reached, even as he prepared to take a step that's sure to anger Democrats. The House could vote Thursday on a GOP-authored proposal to keep the government open another week, while cutting another $12 billion in domestic spending and fully funding the Pentagon for the next six months.
Republicans have dubbed it a "troop funding bill." Democrats call it a cynical partisan gimmick. They say it wouldn't settle the longer-term problem and would take too big a bite out of domestic spending. Obama opposes the bill; he's said he could accept another short-term budget extension only if it's "clean," an agreement to fund the government through Sept. 30 is secured and lawmakers need more time only to clear some procedural hurdles.
Democrats are willing to cut $33 billion from spending during the rest of fiscal 2011, which ends Sept. 30. Republicans want $40 billion in cuts.
The two sides also remain at odds over policy changes the GOP wants to attach to the bill. Among them: denying federal funding to implement climate-change policies and the 2010 health care overhaul.
The president urged compromise.
"You have to make compromises as a family. That's what we are, the American family," he said. "That's what people want to see: results. You deserve no less than that."
There was a widespread feeling at the Capitol that a shutdown would be averted at the last minute, which is typical of budget showdowns. But because congressional rules, particularly in the Senate, make it easy for only a few people to block legislation, no one could say for sure what will happen.
Many conservative Republicans, who have been pushing the hardest for big cuts, said they weren't eager for a shutdown.
"Constituents sent us here to solve problems. Shutting down the government is not in anybody's best interests," said Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, a House Appropriations subcommittee chairman.
Boehner met with Republican House members for about an hour Wednesday and laid out his strategy, but he offered no specifics on dollars or policy changes.
Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Ala., said Boehner's talk appeared to please freshmen who felt pressure from tea party supporters, who helped elect them, not to compromise.
"It's helped a lot of freshmen see the bigger picture," Rogers said. "They're getting a lot of lessons. You could see this week a lot of freshmen evolving and growing and maturing as legislators."
Rogers said it was up to the freshmen to educate their constituents "like they were educated here."
Conservatives said they'd rather focus on the budget for fiscal 2012, which begins Oct. 1, and beyond. The House Budget Committee on Wednesday began writing legislation to cut $6.2 trillion from spending over 10 years, a plan that's expected to be considered by the full House next week.
"I want to get going on the long-term picture," said Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah. "You don't balance the budget, or really cut spending, with a short-term plan."
Some of the 87 Republican freshmen echoed that.
"Let's not turn this skirmish into the war," said Rep. Bill Huizenga, R-Mich.
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