No deal yet as possible government shutdown looms

WASHINGTON — The Senate’s second ranking Democrat said Wednesday that negotiators on the budget are making progress but that conservative GOP policy prescriptions remain obstacles as they scramble to avert a government shutdown this weekend.

“I feel better today than I did yesterday,” s

aid Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill. “There’s been a direct negotiation — things put on the table that had not been discussed before and I think we’re moving towards closure.”

Durbin’s remarks represented a break in the daily shutdown blame game that’s been consuming Washington recently.

At the same time, President Barack Obama placed a brief call to House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, on the negotiations. Boehner’s office said the speaker told Obama he was hopeful a deal could be reached. Obama left Washington in the early afternoon for events in Philadelphia and New York.

White House spokesman Jay Carney, speaking to reporters aboard Air Force One, said the president was prepared to call a meeting of congressional leaders at the White House “at whatever hour of the day is necessary if he believes that progress is not being made.”

“As of right now,” Carney added, “there are reports of progress on the Hill.”

Elsewhere on Wednesday, the combatants charged each other would be to blame if compromise talks on the budget fail to produce an agreement.

“Democrats’ bottom line hasn’t changed. Republicans’ bottom line hasn’t stayed still,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said, one day after meeting privately with House Speaker John Boehner to try and get talks back on track.

The Nevada Democrat said that Boehner “has a choice to make, and not much time to make it: He can do either what the tea party wants, or what the country needs.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell offered a different analysis.

Democrats “still haven’t come up with an alternative to the various Republican proposals we’ve seen to keep the government up and running in the current fiscal year,” the Kentucky Republican said. “They’ve just sat on the sidelines taking potshots at everything Republicans have proposed while rooting for a shutdown.”

Durbin warned that GOP policy “riders” that Democrats mostly oppose “are still on the table.”

The government faces a partial shutdown Friday at midnight if Congress doesn’t take action to avoid one. Negotiations on legislation to keep federal agencies running is hung up over negotiations over a Republican demand for steep spending cuts.

Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said on a network morning news show that “some progress was made” in talks late Tuesday and said “we’ve met the other side more than half way” at $33 billion in proposed cuts from the current-year budget.

But the New York Democrat also said that if talks collapse and a government shutdown happens, it will be the tea party’s fault. He said tea party-backed Republicans in the House “have demanded that cuts be in a very small portion of the budget,” such as cancer research, student aid and public broadcasting. He said tea party Republicans “have an ideology to just get rid of all government,” regardless of whether programs are working.

Tuesday’s White House meeting involving Obama, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., failed to produce the hoped-for breakthrough, however, with a stopgap government funding bill set to expire Friday at midnight.

Obama ratcheted up the pressure afterward, sounding exasperated with Republicans for not warming to a White House proposal that matched, more or less, an earlier GOP framework proposed in February. In it, Democrats propose cuts netting $73 billion in savings below Obama’s original requests — or $33 billion below current spending levels.

Boehner said yet again that there is no agreement on a level of spending cuts. And there’s been little progress on the 50-plus GOP policy “riders” dotting the House version of the measure.

“There’s no reason why we should not get an agreement,” Obama said. “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.”

Talks also took place Tuesday between Boehner and Reid at the Capitol, with both sides reporting a productive discussion.

All sides say they don’t want a partial shutdown of government agencies that would close national parks, shutter passport offices and turn off the IRS taxpayer information hot line just a week before the April 18 filing deadline. But numerous other essential federal workers would stay on the job, including the military, FBI agents and Coast Guard workers. Social Security payments would still go out and the mail would be delivered.

There was at least a hint of flexibility Tuesday, accompanied by sharply partisan attacks and an outburst of shutdown brinksmanship.

According to Democratic and Republican officials, Boehner suggested at the White House meeting that fellow Republicans might be able to accept a deal with $40 billion in cuts. That’s more than negotiators had been eyeing but less than the House seeks.

The speaker’s office declined to comment, and Boehner issued a statement saying, “We can still avoid a shutdown, but Democrats are going to need to get serious about cutting spending — and soon.”

Obama took his most forceful steps yet in trying to prod the stalled talks. He called the White House meeting, rejected a Republican proposal for an interim bill pairing additional spending cuts with a one-week plan to keep the government open, and then announced that Boehner and Reid would meet later in the day.

If they can’t sort out their differences, Obama said, “I want them back here tomorrow.”

At issue is legislation needed to keep the day-to-day operations of federal agencies going through the Sept. 30 end of the budget year. A Democratic-led Congress failed to complete the must-pass spending bills last year. Republicans stormed into power in the House in January and passed a measure with $61 billion in cuts that even some GOP appropriators saw as unworkable. It was rejected in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

Republicans also have added dozens of policy provisions concerning hot-button topics like abortion, global warming and the environment, and Obama’s health care law. Those appear as troublesome as finding agreement on what and how much to cut from agency budgets.

“What we can’t be doing is using last year’s budget process to have arguments about abortion, to have arguments about the Environmental Protection Agency, to try to use this budget negotiation as a vehicle for every ideological or political difference between the two parties,” Obama said.

Democrats said Boehner eventually would have to part company with tea party-backed lawmakers who propelled Republicans to power, and they accused him of reneging on an agreement to cut $33 billion, increasing the chances of a shutdown.

In return, Republicans accused Democrats of resorting to budget gimmicks to make it look like they favored deep cuts, when in fact they were finding ways to ease the potential pain.

Twin partial closures in the mid-1990s boomeranged on Republicans when Newt Gingrich was speaker, helping President Bill Clinton win re-election in 1996.

This time, it’s Obama who is exuding confidence as Boehner seems hemmed in by his hard-charging class of 87 freshmen, many of whom won office with backing from tea party purists.

On Monday, Boehner informed rank-and-file Republicans he would seek passage of a new stopgap bill, a weeklong measure that includes $12 billion in cuts and funds the Defense Department through the end of the year.

Obama rejected it. He said he would sign an interim bill only if one were needed to get the paperwork together on a broader agreement and pass it through both houses.

Meanwhile, 16 moderate Senate Democrats sent Boehner a letter urging against a shutdown that could harm the economy and instill hard feelings that would harm the chances of bipartisan cooperation on long-term fiscal challenges.

Schumer appeared Wednesday on ABC’s “Good Morning America” and NBC’s “Today” show.

Talk to us

> Give us your news tips.

> Send us a letter to the editor.

> More Herald contact information.

More in Local News

Kim Skarda points at her home on a map on Thursday, June 20, 2024 in Concrete, Washington. A community called Sauk River Estates has a very steep slope above it. There is a DNR-approved timber sale that boarders the estate properties, yet they were not consulted about the sale before approval. The community has already appealed the sale and has hired their own geologist to conduct a slope stability report at the site. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Beneath steep slope, Concrete neighbors fear landslides from logging above

Nielsen Brothers plans to cut 54 acres of timber directly behind the community of 83 homes. Locals said they were never consulted.

Law enforcement respond to a person hit by a train near the Port of Everett Mount Baker Terminal on Thursday, June 27, 2024 in Mukilteo, Washington. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
2 killed in waterfront train crashes were near Mukilteo ‘quiet zone’

In June, two people were hit by trains on separate days near Mukilteo Boulevard. “These situations are incredibly tragic,” Everett’s mayor said.

Rob Plotnikoff takes a measurement as a part of the county's State of Our Waters survey at Tambark Creek in Bothell, Washington on Monday, July 1, 2024. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Snohomish County stream team bushwhacks a path to healthier waterways

This summer, the crew of three will survey 40 sites for the State of Our Waters program. It’s science in locals’ backyards.

Logo for news use featuring the municipality of Mountlake Terrace in Snohomish County, Washington. 220118
4th suspect arrested after Mountlake Terrace home robbery

Police arrested Taievion Rogers, 19, on Tuesday. Prosecutors charged his three alleged accomplices in April.

A 10 acre parcel off of Highway 99, between 240th and 242nd Street Southwest that the city of Edmonds is currently in the process of acquiring on Monday, July 10, 2023 in Edmonds, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Edmonds ditches $37M Landmark public park project off Highway 99

The previous mayor envisioned parks and more in south Edmonds, in a historically neglected area. The new administration is battling budget woes.

Edmonds school official sworn in as Mount Vernon supe

Victor Vergara took his oath of office last week. He was assistant superintendent of equity and student success in Edmonds.

Everett Fire responds to  a medical incident at Northern View Apartments in Everett. (Photo provided by Everett FIre)
Everett firefighters rescue man and dog in fire that displaces 8

It took about an hour for firefighters to extinguish the flames at the Northern View Apartments on Wednesday night.

The Sounder commuter train at Everett Station Wednesday evening on October 9, 2019.   (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
Hop a Sounder train from Everett, Mukilteo, Edmonds to Mariners games

The next run is Sunday as the M’s face their division foe, the Houston Astros. The train departs Everett at 10:45 a.m.

Boeing 787's in various stages of assembly at Boeing's Everett Plant on April 29, 2017 in Everett. (The Boeing Co.)
Boeing workers signal support for strike if contract talks fail

The union is calling for a 40% raise for workers over the next three years.

A wall diagram shows the “journey of the ballot” at the new Elections Center on Tuesday, July 9, 2024 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Snohomish County primary election ballots shipped to registered voters

This year’s primary election will feature races in every corner of the county. Turn in a ballot by Aug. 6 to ensure your vote is counted.

A skeletonized cranium found at Scriber Lake Park in Lynnwood, WA on March 24, 2024. The remains are likely a black male estimated to be over 25 years of age and unknown height and weight. He is estimated to have been deceased at least one year. (Provided by Snohomish County Medical Examiner's Office)
Authorities seek help identifying partial skull found in Lynnwood park

A homeless man discovered the skull at Scriber Lake Park. Forensic scientists hope to connect the remains to a missing person.

Guests enjoy the sunset and wind Friday afternoon at Cama Beach Historical State Park on Camano Island on October 25, 2019. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
State commission weighs permanent closure of Cama Beach cabins

The Washington State Parks Commission said the park’s native history, sea level rise and septic issues will figure in its decision.

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.