After talks at the White House Thursday afternoon, there was still no deal between congressional leaders and the White House to keep the government funded past Friday midnight. After the early afternoon meeting, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., emerged to report progress and optimism, but still no agreement. The said that negotiations will continue and that they planned to return to the White House for more talks around 7:00 p.m.
"We’ll see you here at 7:00. The negotiators are going to start again at 3:00 today to see if they can work through the issues. We had a frank discussion. We had the necessary parties there to move toward a finish line," Reid said. "I’m disappointed we haven’t been able to get something done to this point. But I am pleased that we are still working on getting there. In a matter of a little more than 24 hours… unless we work something out the government will shut down. Essential services of the government will shut down."
Boehner reiterated that while a deal was close, it was not done: "I do believe that it's important to take this moment and get the largest spending cuts possible that will help our economy and help job creators back to creating jobs," Boehner.
Earlier, congressional aides in both parties said House Republicans and Senate Democrats remain divided by at least $5 billion on the total cuts the bill would include. Reid aides, however, said GOP insistence on including policy riders in the bill—in particular a measure cutting off federal funding for Planned Parenthood—is the key sticking point. Reid and Democratic aides said they also remain at odds with Boehner over inclusion of a rider to block funding for the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.
“We have moved so far, Mr. President, and we have given everything we can give,” Reid said on the Senate floor, faulting House Republicans for inflexibility.
Reid said his aides and Boehner’s have “basically” reached an agreement on a target number for spending cuts in the bill. However, aides in both parties who are familiar with talks said a gap remains.
House and Senate staffers said the House GOP on Wednesday night proposed a bill that included more than $35 billion in cuts, but it was rejected by the Democrats. Democrats countered with an offer of less than $35 billion that included defense cuts, which the GOP rejected. That back-and-forth came after Reid, Boehner, and Obama met Wednesday night. House and Senate leadership staffers met for three hours to discuss policy riders, according to aides. The meeting broke up at about 1:30 a.m. without a deal.
The GOP is now working on a counterproposal.
Prior to his floor speech on Thursday morning, Reid told constituents at a breakfast event that a shutdown looked likely, according to five people present. “He said he anticipates a shutdown,” said one constituent. “He was very solemn.” Reid spokesman Adam Jentleson said Reid has said only that a shutdown might occur.
Boehner and Reid are set to meet with President Obama at the White House at 1 p.m. Thursday for the third time in three days. Both Reid and Boehner also spoke with Obama by phone Thursday morning, aides said.
Meanwhile, the House is set to pass a GOP bill that extends federal funding for one week. The measure would fund the military for the remainder of fiscal 2011, which ends on September 30.
Republicans say the bill cuts $12 billion from current levels, but critics say it in fact cuts only $4.4 billion versus fiscal 2010 spending. That's because the bill cuts $12 billion overall but adds $7.6 billion to the Pentagon budget, Steve Ellis, vice president of the nonprofit Taxpayers for Common Sense, noted in a statement Thursday.
Reid said both he and Obama have called the House proposal unacceptable. "The president has told the speaker that. I’ve told the speaker that." Reid said. "Republicans in the Senate have told the speaker that." Democratic aides and senators said this week the proposal has no chance of Senate passage.
Senate Democrats have said they will only consider a short-term continuing resolution if a deal is in place on the longer-term bill but it needs time to pass both chambers.
In a government shutdown, parts of many federal agencies considered “essential” would continue operating. But many highly public government functions, like the operation of national parks and museums, would cease. Parts of government that do not rely on annual appropriations, such as the Postal Service, would also continue. Activities “necessary for the safety of life and protection of property” of the U.S. and its citizens would continue.
Humberto Sanchez and Susan Davis contributed contributed to this article.
This article appears in the April 7, 2011 edition of National Journal Daily PM Update.