Obama: GOP, Dems Close to Deal on Budget Cuts

April 1, 2011 - 3:28 PM

Mitch McConnell, John Cornyn, Mike Lee

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, center, is joined by Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, right, and Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, left, as GOP senators call for an amendment to the Constitution requiring a balanced federal budget, at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, March 31, 2011. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Washington (AP) - Pushing negotiators to avoid a looming government shutdown, President Barack Obama warned Friday that outcome could be ruinous and said a deal was in sight.

On Capitol Hill White House officials and congressional Democrats maneuvered furiously to gain advantage over the GOP on details of a government-wide spending bill.

Both sides are discussing cuts in the range of $33 billion, and Obama said that after weeks of talks among Democrats, Republicans and the White House team, "it appears that we're getting close to an agreement."

By speaking up after leaving much of the negotiating to his lieutenants, Obama sought to raise expectations of a deal and put pressure on lawmakers to make it happen. The government's authority to spend money expires next Friday.

Congressional Republican leaders are contending with conservatives in their caucus who want nearly twice as much in cuts. House Speaker John Boehner, in a news conference Thursday, said Republicans would fight for all the spending cuts they could. But he noted they could not "impose our will" on the Democrats and pointedly refrained from insisting on the full $61 billion in cuts contained in legislation the House passed more than a month ago.

Obama spoke hours after the government reported the economy added 216,000 jobs last month and the unemployment rate fell to a two-year low of 8.8 percent.

"If these budget negotiations break down we could end up having to shut down the government just at a time when the economy is starting to recover. That could jeopardize the economic recovery," the president said.

"Given the encouraging news we received today on jobs, it would be the height of irresponsibility to halt our economic momentum because of the same-old Washington politics."

On Capitol Hill, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., vowed that any compromise won't include GOP proposals blocking the Environmental Protection Agency from enforcing new rules on greenhouse gases or regulations on a host of other issues.

Reid referred to a raft of Republican policy provisions attached to a House-passed government-wide funding bill currently being negotiated in hopes of avoiding a government shutdown next weekend. In addition to blocking new regulations on greenhouse gases, such riders include language blocking EPA plans to clean up the Chesapeake Bay, and its plans to close down mountaintop mines the agency believes will cause too much water pollution.

That was a reversal from comments Reid made Tuesday in which he signaled flexibility on riders, though he would not say which ones.

Reid's comments came two days after The Associated Press reported that the White House was signaling in private meetings with lawmakers that some Republican proposals on the EPA's regulatory powers would have to make it into the final bill. The lawmaker providing the information insisted on anonymity because the discussions were private. Reid himself had signaled flexibility. Taken together, the revelations ignited a firestorm among environmental activists.

Boehner, R-Ohio, who's the leading negotiator for Republicans, has insisted publicly and privately that some GOP policy prescriptions will have to make it into the final bill.

Friday's announcement promises to make it far more difficult to reach final agreement on the spending bill, required to fund the government through the end of September and avoid a partial shutdown next weekend.

Reid also said that any final agreement will have to curb increases in the Pentagon's budget so that cuts to domestic programs won't be as deep. And he said Republicans will have to accept some cuts to so-called mandatory programs, which have budgets that run on autopilot.