Budget Negotiations Continue As Deadline Looms
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
And I'm Michele Norris.
Funding for the federal government runs out Friday night and there's little time left to extend it. Today, it looks increasingly likely that the first government shutdown since the mid-'90s could begin this weekend. That's because congressional leaders negotiating a deal to extend funding for the rest of this fiscal year can't seem to agree on what or how much to cut.
NPR's David Welna reports on the shutdown showdown.
DAVID WELNA: Until today, President Obama had kept a certain distance as Congress wrangled for weeks over how much money to cut from the budget for the rest of this fiscal year. That changed when he summoned the top Republican and Democrat in Congress and the two chairmen of the Appropriations Committees to the White House. They met for an hour and 20 minutes and Mr. Obama later told reporters he still had hopes for a deal to avert a shutdown now that Democrats have agreed to cut $33 billion from current spending levels.
President BARACK OBAMA: We are now closer than we have ever been to getting an agreement. There is no reason why we should not get an agreement. As I said before, we have now matched the number that the speaker originally sought. The only question is whether politics or ideology are going to get in the way of preventing a government shutdown.
WELNA: Immediately after Mr. Obama spoke at the White House, Speaker of the House John Boehner called a news conference outside his office at the capitol. Boehner was decidedly less positive than the president about today's meeting.
Representative JOHN BOEHNER (Republican, Ohio): There was no agreement reached and so those conversations will continue. We've made clear that we're fighting for the largest spending cuts possible. We're talking about real spending cuts here. No smoke and mirrors.
We've also made clear that there was never an agreement of $33 billion that we're going to continue to fight for, again, the largest cuts possible.
WELNA: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who was also at the meeting, then gave his version of what transpired. Reid said he had thought for several days that both sides were close to an agreement.
Senator HARRY REID (Democrat, Nevada): But the meeting at the White House and the negotiations over the weekend really indicated to me and I think most people that are watching this that the leadership in the House is being guided by the Tea Party.
WELNA: Reid and Boehner met for a second time this afternoon at the capitol and President Obama says he wants them back at the White House tomorrow and the next day if no deal has been reached. Talk of a shutdown is increasing, along with speculation about which party will take the blame if one occurs.
As he rolled out a proposed budget for the next fiscal year today, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan was asked, who will be responsible is there is a shutdown?
Representative PAUL RYAN (Republican, Wisconsin): If you are asking about who is aiming for a government shutdown, look at the legislative chamber - the United States Senate that has not passed one bill to prevent the government from shutting down.
WELNA: Congress has passed six stopgap spending bills to prevent shutdowns over the past six months. House Republicans late last night proposed yet another one lasting only a week to allow a longer-term deal to be worked out. It would cut $12 billion from government programs during that week. Majority Leader Reid said all those cuts were ones Democrats planned to make over the next six months, not in one week.
Sen. REID: And then they're trying to fund the Defense Department for the rest of the year when everybody else is funded for one week. And then if that's not good enough, they stick an abortion rider on this. I mean, it seems that every step we take, it's something just to poke us in the eye.
WELNA: Reid said the stop gap bill House Republicans are proposing to avert a shutdown would not go anywhere in the Senate unless it's changed. Despite the hardening of positions today, Senate Appropriations Committee chairman Daniel Inouye said he did not believe there would be a shutdown. Why?
Senator DANIEL INOUYE (Democrat, Hawaii): Because we're people of good faith.
WELNA: With just three days left to cut a deal.
David Welna, NPR News, the capitol.
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