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Government Moves to Brink of Shutdown

President Obama said late Thursday that he was not optimistic on prospects of preventing a government shutdown.(Alex Wong/Getty Images)

April 8, 2011

The government moved to the brink of a shutdown on Friday as negotiations that lasted until early in the morning did not seem to break the months-long impasse between Senate Democrats and House Republicans.

Thursday night, President Obama said he expected to have an announcement on a budget deal by Friday morning, suggesting that a deal was close, and that both parties simply had to be sold on its merits. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Friday morning that he and House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, have agreed on a deal to cut about $38 billion from current spending levels, but added that Republican insistence on including a policy rider blocking federal funding for Planned Parenthood, is the only stumbling block.

A spokesman for Boehner challenged Reid's account, saying that continuing differences over spending cuts, not the abortion rider, remain the problem. And Republicans cautioned not to expect any final word until after House Speaker John Boehner has the chance to brief the Republican conference at noon.


Friday morning, Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said on MSNBC that Boehner "offered the president a number. The president said we will work it out at that number; he agreed to come to that number." Democratic officials said that the number was higher than $35 billion in cuts for the remainder of the year but less than $40 billion. They refused to provide a specific number because they said that doing so would jeopardize the talks.

Schumer said on MSNBC that Republicans would not accept compromise language on the Title X rider that would deprive Planned Parenthood of $300 million in federal funds. But Republican aides disputed this, telling reporters that no agreement on an overall budget-cut number had been reached and that everything was in play until nothing was.

Both Republican and Democratic aides told National Journal on Friday morning that a provision to curtail Environmental Protection Agency enforcement powers was no longer viable, and a White House official confirmed this account.

Obama has cleared his schedule for the day.

Both parties seemed to be setting up the other for blame in case talks Friday morning fail to end the stalemate. Democrats would say that Republicans sacrificed the nation’s fiscal health and were pulled to the right by social conservatives. Republicans in turn would say that Democrats let the government shut down because they could not detach themselves from the idea of government spending.

"While nothing will be decided until everything is decided, the largest issue is still spending cuts," Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said on Friday. "The American people want to cut spending to help the private sector create jobs, and the Democrats that run Washington don't."

On Thursday night, Obama said negotiations were ongoing, but that he was skeptical on prospects for a deal.

"Once again the staff is going to be working, tonight, around the clock," the president said, adding that "difficult" issues remained to be sorted out. "I'm not yet prepared to express wild optimism." Those staff discussions ended for the night around 3 a.m. Friday morning.

Emerging from the second, evening session, Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said there still was no agreement, though more progress had been made and talks would continue.

“We have narrowed the issues, however, we have not yet reached an agreement. We will continue to work through the night to attempt to resolve our remaining differences,” Reid and Boehner said in a joint statement.

Appearing on the Senate floor minutes after Obama's appearance in the White House briefing room, Reid said the remaining issues were "extremely narrow."

Obama said he would check back in with congressional leaders on Friday, saying: "I expect an answer in the morning."

Later on Thursday night, the White House announced that Obama's scheduled trip to Indianapolis on Friday was postponed.

Earlier, congressional aides in both parties said House Republicans and Senate Democrats were divided by at least $5 billion on the total cuts that the bill would include.

Reid aides, however, said that GOP insistence on including policy riders in the bill—in particular the measure cutting off federal funding for Planned Parenthood—was the key sticking point. 

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