Budget Negotiations: $5 Billion, And About That Many Miles, Apart
As I write this, there are about fifteen hours left before the Federal Government will be forced to shut down unless there’s a budget deal and, as things stand now, it’s completely unclear which way this will work out:
Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill say they are about $5 billion apart in their haggling to reach a deal to fund the federal government for the rest of the year.
That amounts to one-half of
1 percent of the trillion dollars in spending Congress doles out each year.
Yet weeks of negotiations have not led them to an agreement. A flurry of activity Thursday, including two Oval Office sit-downs with President Obama, did not close the gap, or even cool the rhetoric. Each side continued to accuse the other of playing politics, and of trying to force a government impasse.
The only question on the minds of everyone in the capital — will a shutdown happen? — is now being asked with increasing urgency. If the two sides cannot come to terms by midnight Friday, Washington will effectively run out of money and the government will close.
“What I’ve said to the speaker and what I’ve said to Harry Reid is because the machinery of the shutdown is necessarily starting to move, I expect an answer in the morning,” Obama said just before 10 p.m. Thursday, concluding his fourth meeting with congressional leaders in three days.
After the meeting, the White House canceled Obama’s scheduled trip Friday to Indianapolis to discuss hybrid-transportation technology. The staff-level talks broke up just before dawn.
A Republican aide reported progress on the issue of riders–primarily restrictions on abortion funding and environmental regulations that Republicans are pushing and Democrats oppose. But aides from both parties said lawmakers continue to disagree on how much to cut from the budget and whether some cuts should come from the Pentagon.
In what could be a critical meeting, House Republicans will gather in a room in the Capitol basement room at noon – precisely 12 hours before the shutdown deadline. House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), House Majority Leader Eric I. Cantor (R-Va.) and other GOP leaders are expected to brief reporters after that session.
Federal agencies on Thursday began preparing more than 800,000 federal workers nationwide for a possible shutdown, letting them know whether they should show up for work on Monday morning if the government runs out of funds.
There appeared to be a disconnect between the overheated gamesmanship that took place in front of the cameras and the calmer negotiations taking place out of view.
Boehner is pushing for a deal that would include about $39 billion
in spending cuts. Reid (D-Nev.), the Senate majority leader, and Obama have pushed to keep the reductions to about $34 billion, aides in both parties said.
But aides privately said that disagreements about money are no longer really the issue. Negotiators have identified an array of spending cuts, enough to meet Boehner’s and Reid’s demands — if they can agree on which of those cuts to make.
Publicly, Boehner and Reid continue to argue over Republican demands that any deal include restrictions on abortion funding and environmental regulations. Democrats oppose such restrictions. Privately, both sides acknowledge that these may turn out to be bargaining chips that the GOP will ultimately remove from a final agreement in exchange for deeper cuts or other concessions.
At this point, the details don’t seem to be the obstacle. Instead, it has come down to a test of political will between Boehner on one side and Reid and Obama on the other.
At this point, the parties are already positioning themselves for the blame game. This morning, Harry Reid and Charles Schumer were both on television saying that what was holding up a final deal was the Planned Parenthood rider, and the issue of abortion. Republicans are saying that there isn’t even an agreement on a number yet and emphasizing, correctly, that we wouldn’t be in this position if the Democrats had passed a budget last year. Things seem to be going differently behind the scenes, though, so it still remains to be seen how this will work itself out.