BREAKING: Dems, GOP ‘Working off the Same Number’

by Andrew Stiles

Senate Democrats and House Republicans appear to have reached an agreement on a dollar amount in negotiations over a spending resolution for the remainder of the fiscal year. Vice President Joe Biden told reporters following a meeting with Senate Democratic leaders that both sides had agreed on a number — $73 billion* in spending cuts — but little else. The exact composition of those cuts is currently being negotiated at the staff level between the House and Senate Appropriations Committees. “The bottom line here is, we’re working off the same number now,” Biden said. “It’s about how.”

Biden said that Senate Democrats and the White House were in “full agreement” as to what they would like to see included in a final bill, and expected a “real debate” with Republicans on the issue of policy riders and where the spending cuts would come from. The debate would encompass “all of the budget,” he said.

“Part of the negotiation in there doesn’t relate to dollar amounts it relates to what they will swallow and we can swallow relative to riders,” Biden said. “There are certain things we’re just not going to do on riders, even if you agree on everything else. They may have equally strong positions…That’s why there’s no deal until there’s a whole deal.”

But he reiterated, somewhat optimistically, that both sides we’re working off the same number. “There is no reason why, with all that’s going on in the world and with the state of the economy, we can’t reach an agreement and avoid a government shutdown,” he said.

*Note: The “$73 billion” is measured from the amount President Obama requested in his 2011 budget proposal, which Congress never enacted. As a result, Democrats claim to have already “cut” $40 billion, the amount that spending would have increased had Obama’s budget been approved. The 112th Congress has passed two short-term spending resolutions this year (one lasting two weeks, a second lasting three weeks) that actually cut spending by $10 billion. Therefore, what the two sides have allegedly agreed to is a further cut of $23 billion between now and the end of the fiscal year (September 30). Per Biden’s conflated math: 40 + 10 + 23 = 73. All told, if the supposed deal were to pass, it would amount to a total actual spending cut of $33 billion for fiscal year 2011, just over half the $61 billion in cuts included in H.R. 1, the House-passed long-term spending resolution.

UPDATE: Michael Steel, spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio), offers the following response to Biden’s claim: “No. There is no deal until everything is settled — spending cuts and policy restrictions. The Vice President simply hasn’t been at the table.”

UPDATE II: From the official transcript:

THE VICE PRESIDENT: I think we’re making good progress. We’re all working off the same number now, $73 billion (inaudible). The appropriations committees met today.  Obviously, there’s a difference in the composition of that number — what’s included, what’s not included.  It’s going to be a thorough negotiation.  We’re getting back — we got to roll up our sleeves.  They’re going back, meeting tomorrow morning at what, 8:00 a.m., 9:00 a.m., 10:00 a.m. — whatever it is tomorrow morning. 

There is no reason why, with all that’s going on in the world and with the state of the economy, we can’t reach an agreement to avoid a government shutdown, because the bottom line here is we’re working off the same number.  This is — it’s about how.  

And we have very firm — the Democrats are in full agreement on what we don’t want to do in that number.  We don’t want to eviscerate the ability of the economy to grow.  So we’re going to have a little debate.  And the negotiation between the appropriators is going on.  I’m not going to get into any detail of that. 

The Democrats agree with the President and me, with the administration, on what the makeup of that $73 billion should be.  But the key point here is, in my view — and, by the way there’s no deal until there’s a whole deal.  So the composition of the $73 billion makes a big difference.  But we are no longer working off $100 billion — we are at the same place of where — what number we’re working off, but the composition of that $73 billion.   

Q:    What about riders? 

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  That is all part of what will be negotiated here.  The President and I are not really big on any riders at all.  But this is a process which is normal for the House and Senate Appropriations Committees to get into the details.  We’ve made it clear what we think are non-starters, both in numbers and riders.  But I’m not going to go — I’m not going to negotiate out here.  

But the main reason of being here today is to make sure that Democrats in the Senate and the President are both on the same page.  We’re on the same page. 

Q:    (Inaudible) $73 billion? 

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  Well, yes.  Look, here’s the point.  The appropriators sat down.  Rogers’ and Inouye’s committee sat down and they started off with we’re working off of $73 billion.  Now, I spoke to John.  John makes it clear.  It’s the same as our position.  There is no deal until there’s a total deal, okay. 

So if we do not get the makeup of that $73 billion the way we want it, we may not even be prepared to go that high.  If they don’t get the makeup of this, they may argue they’re not going to go — they’re going to go higher. 

Q:    So you’re saying the makeup of the $73 billion is the equivalent of the riders (inaudible)? 

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  No, no, no.  I’m not saying that.  Let me be very precise.  The makeup(inaudible) everything from discretionary spending to defense, mandatory to non-mandatory, it makes up all of the budget.  That’s what it makes up, the totality of what they want to put in the $73 billion and what we want to put in the $73 billion. 

Part of the negotiation in there doesn’t relate to dollar amounts.  It relates to what they will swallow and we could swallow relative to riders.  There are certain things we’re just not going to do on riders, even if you agree with everything else.  We’re just not going to do it.  They may have positions that are equally as strongly as held. 

So that’s why it’s not a deal until it’s a whole deal.  Thank you all.