Congressional Leaders Continue Budget Talks

Top negotiators in Congress have yet to strike a deal that would keep federal programs funded beyond Friday. Neither Republicans nor Democrats want to be blamed for a shutdown — so all profess to be doing their utmost to avert one.

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And we're a little more than a day away from a partial government shutdown. Top negotiators in Congress have yet to strike a deal that would keep federal programs funded beyond tomorrow. Neither Republicans nor Democrats want to be blamed for a shutdown, so all profess to be doing their utmost to avert one.

But as NPR's David Welna reports, time is running out on their search for common ground.

DAVID WELNA: For the third time in as many days, Speaker of the House John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid trooped over to the White House this afternoon to be prodded once again by President Obama to work out their differences.

The president is hardly a neutral mediator. There appears to be little daylight between him and leader Reid on what's acceptable and what's not in the frantic push to avert a shutdown.

Earlier today, Reid said he'd lost the cautious optimism he had last night after a similar meeting at the White House. He seemed to have recovered some of that buoyancy when he spoke in the White House driveway after today's meeting.

HARRY REID: We had a frank discussion. We had the necessary parties there to move toward a finish line. I'm disappointed we haven't been able to get something done to this point. But I am pleased that we're still working on getting there.

WELNA: For his part, Speaker Boehner, who spoke alongside Reid in the driveway, emphasized what he said had not been agreed upon.

JOHN BOEHNER: There is no agreement on a number. There are no agreement on the policy issues that are contained with this. We're continuing to work toward an agreement because I do believe all of us sincerely believe that we can get to an agreement, but we are not there yet.

WELNA: Earlier at a news conference at the Capitol, Boehner suggested he had been misled at last night's White House session.

BOEHNER: We made some progress last night, or at least I thought we did. But, you know, when I see what the White House has to offer today, it's really just more of the same.

WELNA: But Senate Democrats say there is far less that separates them from House Republicans than what Boehner is willing to admit. Give or take a billion dollars, they say, the number all parties are discussing for how much to extract from the budget for the remaining half of the fiscal year is around $33 billion, a little more than half the amount of spending cuts House Republicans approved in February.

Senator Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat, suggested today that Boehner is the one who's been misleading.

CHARLES SCHUMER: When the speaker says there's no agreement on the number or the cuts, it does not mean we're far apart. He just means he isn't ready to say so publicly yet.

WELNA: There is a significant difference in the budget showdown, though, over the social policy restrictions that Republicans attached to the budget for this year which only the House approved.

Here's Majority Leader Reid earlier today.

REID: This debate that we've been involved in for many weeks now used to be based on money. That's no longer the case. The Tea Party is trying to push through its extreme agenda - issues that have nothing, nothing, nothing to do with funding government.

WELNA: Seeking political cover in this fight, House Republicans today approved a one-week extension of federal funding. It cuts $12 billion in spending and also funds the Pentagon through September. It also contains what Democrats consider a poison pill: a measure barring the use of federal funds for abortions in the nation's capital.

Here's House Democrat Norm Dicks of Washington state.

NORM DICKS: They have chosen to put in a highly controversial rider on abortion in the District of Columbia which is ideological. This is not something that a serious appropriations committee would do in the middle of a government crisis.

WELNA: Reid called the measure passed by the House a nonstarter for the Senate. The White House called it a distraction and said President Obama would veto it.

But because that measure would keep the government fully operating should no deal be reached on funding for the rest of the fiscal year, Republicans say it will be the fault of Democrats if there is a partial shutdown.

Both Reid and Boehner are meeting once again at the White House this evening.

David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.

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