No Big Breakthroughs As Budget Deadline Looms

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Talks at the White House on Wednesday night did not produce a budget agreement, and a government shutdown is still looming. President Obama, Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Republican House Speaker John Boehner left the meeting saying they will continue to work toward a settlement.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne. Good morning.

The president is highlighting what progress there is. But there is still no deal on a federal budget that would avert a government shutdown as of midnight tomorrow. Mr. Obama called in leaders of both parties to the White House last night. And even after the leaders went home, congressional negotiators worked through the night.

But as NPR's Ari Shapiro reports, there were no major breakthroughs.

ARI SHAPIRO: It was nearly 11:00 p.m. when President Obama walked into the White House briefing room. Vice President Biden, the chief of staff and other senior officials came in right behind him. They had been meeting with congressional leaders for more than an hour. According to the press secretary, President Obama called the meeting because negotiators didn't make enough progress on their own earlier in the day. So as the president stood behind the lectern, the straggling reporters wondered: deal or no deal?

President BARACK OBAMA: 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.

SHAPIRO: Still outstanding. No resolution. The shutdown still looms.

President OBAMA: A shutdown could have real effects on everyday Americans.

SHAPIRO: That has been President Obama's line for several days now, but his words have not been enough to bring about a resolution.

President OBAMA: It would be inexcusable, given the relatively narrow differences when it comes to numbers between the two parties, that we can't get this done.

SHAPIRO: He did not take questions and he would not describe what those remaining differences are that he describes as narrow. Neither would Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who spoke in front of clicking cameras on the White House driveway a few minutes later.

Senator HARRY REID (Democrat, Nevada; Senate Majority Leader): It was very honest. We've narrowed the issues significantly, and we're going to continue working.

SHAPIRO: Reid stood next to House Speaker John Boehner on the warm spring night. The air between them, though, seemed frosty.

Representative JOHN BOEHNER (Republican, Ohio; House Minority Leader): We do have some minor differences, but I do think we made some progress. But I want to reiterate, there's no agreement on a number and there's no agreement on the policy riders.

SHAPIRO: Neither side named anything specific that had been accomplished. But at least there was less outright finger-pointing than earlier in the day. During an afternoon town hall meeting outside of Philadelphia yesterday, President Obama accused Republicans of putting ideology above the good of the country.

President OBAMA: I mean they're stuffing all kinds of issues in there: abortion, the environment, healthcare - you know, there are times to have those discussions. But that time is not now. Right now we need to just make sure that we pay our bills and that the government stays open.

SHAPIRO: Back in Washington, Speaker Boehner suggested that President Obama was negligent to leave Washington at such a crucial time.

Rep. BOEHNER: The president isn't leading. He didn't lead on last year's budget and he clearly is not leading on this year's budget.

SHAPIRO: Boehner says Republicans don't want to shut the government down either. They just want the largest spending cuts they can get for the last half of this fiscal year.

Rep. BOEHNER: We're going to be prepared to move forward with our troop funding bill that would fund our troops, keep the government open for another week, and cut $12 billion in spending.

SHAPIRO: That one-week extension remains on the table, but Democrats say they're done with short-term stopgap measures. Senate Majority Leader Reid accused Republicans of moving the finish line every time a deal seems within reach.

Sen. REID: We meet them halfway. They say no. We meet them more than halfway. They still say no. We meet them all the way. They still say no. If Republicans were serious about keeping the country running, all they would have to do is say yes.

SHAPIRO: But a yes from Speaker Boehner could still get a no from Republican freshmen and those who align with the Tea Party. This is the biggest test yet of the Tea Party's political clout in Congress. It's a test Speaker Boehner does not want to fail. At the same time, neither Boehner nor Democrats such as Senator Barbara Mikulski of Maryland want the blame for a shutdown.

Senator BARBARA MIKULSKI (Democrat, Maryland): This is a situation of enormous negative consequences, and I think we're going to rue the day at the way we're functioning here.

SHAPIRO: They have a day and a half left to pull it back from the brink.

Ari Shapiro, NPR News, Washington.

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