Obama: Budget Deal Close, Shutdown Disruptive

April 5, 2011 - 1:54 PM

John Boehner

House Speaker John Boehner Ohio smiles from the back of an elevator after attending a closed conference meeting on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, April 5, 2011. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Washington (AP) - President Barack Obama, showing growing impatience, said Tuesday it would be "inexcusable" for lawmakers to fail to fund the government through the end of the year and cause a shutdown.

"We are closer than we have ever been to an agreement. There is no reason why we should not get an agreement," Obama said following a White House meeting with congressional leaders.

Appearing before reporters at the White House, Obama said that House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid were to meet on Capitol Hill later Tuesday to continue negotiations. If that meeting does not produce an agreement, Obama said he would summon the pair back to the White House Wednesday.

"Myself, Joe Biden, my team - we are prepared to meet for as long as possible to get this resolved," Obama said.

Boehner, in a televised appearance right after Obama, said Republicans also want to avoid a government shutdown but also want to achieve the largest spending cuts that are possible. "We believe cutting spending will help us create jobs in America," he said.

Earlier Tuesday after meeting with Obama, Boehner had said there was no deal with the White House and Democrats. And he warned that House Republicans "will not be put in a box" of accepting options they refuse to endorse.

Boehner has proposed an agreement that would keep the government running for one more week and slash another $12 billion in spending. Boehner has already orchestrated action by Congress to pass a pair of stopgap bills, so far cutting $10 billion from an estimated $1.2 trillion budget to fund the day-to-day operations of government through Sept. 30.

Obama said he would only accept another short-term funding extension, of two or three days, in order to get a longer-term deal through Congress. But he ruled out a longer extension to allow negotiations to continue.

"That is not a way to run a government. I cannot have our agencies making plans based on two week budgets," Obama said. "What we are not going to do is once again put off something that should have been done months ago."

Obama also said the budget should not be used to also attach policy measures that aim to limit abortions or that seek to curtail environmental protection regulations. He said that there was a legitimate debate to be had about resolving questions of the long-term debt and deficit and social safety net programs. "Right now what we're talking about is six months remaining" on the budget for the current fiscal year, he said.

The White House maintains that lawmakers from both parties have been working off a target number - $33 billion more in cuts - for days. But Boehner has publicly denied any such agreement, saying in his statement that the $33 billion "is not enough" and accusing the Democrats of pressing gimmicky budget cuts.

While the White House has been heavily involved in the budget discussions, it has tried to maintain a public distance from the talks, with Obama and aides repeatedly arguing that the spending measure is an appropriations function of Congress, not of the executive branch.

With the Friday deadline to avoid a shutdown approaching, the White House has begun advising government agencies on the proper steps in preparation for a shutdown of the government.

Republicans on Monday disclosed plans to instruct lawmakers "on how the House would operate in the event Senate Democrats shut down the government."

And in a memo to agency officials, the deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget, Jeffrey Zients, urged agency heads to refine and update contingency plans in the event negotiators don't strike a deal by Friday's deadline

Boehner's one-week plan could reassure tea party-backed lawmakers who are among the most vocal in seeking to reduce the size and scope of the government. It could also put pressure on Democrats and the White House to offer greater spending cuts.

But there's no visible movement on an impasse over GOP policy riders attacking Obama's health care and financial reform laws, cutting taxpayer funds to Planned Parenthood and reversing a host of Obama's environmental policies.

On a separate long-term track, Republicans controlling the House have fashioned plans to slash the budget deficit by more than $5 trillion over the upcoming decade, combining unprecedented spending cuts with a fundamental restructuring of taxpayer-financed health care for the elderly and the poor.

House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., unveiled the GOP budget blueprint Tuesday morning just as Boehner, R-Ohio, headed to the White House for the meeting with Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, his chief nemesis in Congress.

Ryan's program also includes a controversial proposal to convert the traditional Medicare program for the aged into a system by which private insurers would operate plans approved by the federal government.

Current Medicare beneficiaries or workers age 55 and older would stay in the existing system.

At the same time, Republicans propose to sharply cut projected spending on the Medicaid state-federal health program for the poor and disabled and transform it into a block grant program that gives governors far less money than under current estimates, but considerably more flexibility.