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Budget talks go nowhere, raising fears of federal shutdown

WASHINGTON — The first federal government shutdown in more than 15 years drew closer Tuesday as President Barack Obama and congressional leaders failed to make progress after back-to-back meetings at the White House and on Capitol Hill.

Obama and Congress remained billions of dollars apart and at odds over where to find savings after an 80-minute West Wing meeting that included House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. In the meeting, Boehner floated the possibility that he may seek as much as $40 billion in cuts, $7 billion more than the two sides have been discussing for the past week.

Growing irked by the prolonged negotiations, Obama demanded that the congressional leaders "act like grown-ups."

"If they can't sort it out, then I want them back here tomorrow. And if that doesn't work, we'll invite them again the day after that," Obama told reporters in a rare appearance in the press room.

The president invited congressional leaders back to the White House today, but he is scheduled to spend much of the day traveling and, as of late Tuesday, no meeting had been finalized.

Boehner, who watched Obama's remarks in his Capitol suites, pledged to keep talking. His aides deflected reports that the speaker is setting a new target of $40 billion in cuts, but he also rejected the $33 billion figure that Republican leaders in the House and Democratic leaders in the Senate had been working toward.

"There was no agreement, so those conversations will continue. We made clear that we're fighting for the largest spending cuts possible," Boehner told reporters moments after Obama spoke.

Reid continued to accuse Republicans of not being "fair and reasonable" in their demands for higher cuts and specific changes to social and regulatory policies. Asked if he would be willing to reach $40 billion in cuts, however, Reid demurred.

"I'm not negotiating here what we're going to do ultimately," he told reporters.

A late-day meeting between Boehner and Reid in the speaker's office produced no breakthroughs, but aides to both lawmakers issued identical statements calling it "a productive discussion" — a significant shift in tone after a week in which the two traded accusations across the Capitol.

Without any resolution — either through a full spending plan or another short-term extension — the federal government would shut down at midnight Friday, with the full impact coming when the workweek resumes Monday.

Aside from agreeing on how much to cut, two key stumbling blocks remain. One is a demand by Democrats to include roughly $10 billion in one-time cuts from programs such as Pell grants and farm subsidies. Republicans have rejected those cuts because they wouldn't be permanent. On Tuesday, Boehner called such proposals "smoke and mirrors."

Another impediment to a deal is Boehner's insistence on attaching what are known as policy riders to the legislation. One such provision, approved as an amendment to the House bill in February, would keep open a mountain repository outside Las Vegas for storage of high-level nuclear waste — a plan Reid absolutely opposes for his state.

Budget talks go nowhere, raising fears of federal shutdown 04/05/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 5, 2011 11:04pm]
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