Budget Talks: The Storm Before The Calm

by Andrew Stiles

Party leaders lobbed rhetorical grenades across the Capitol this morning ahead of an early afternoon summit at the White House to continue negotiations over a long-term spending resolution. Following a “productive” meeting late Wednesday evening at the White House, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) and House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio) both changed their tunes on Thursday, suggesting that a deal was less likely. For the most part, they simply reverted to the same tough-line talking points they have been using all week.

Reid took to the Senate floor to insist that while “the numbers are basically there” in terms of of spending cuts, Republicans are holding out for “ideology” and “so-called social issues.” He was referring to two items in particular — “policy riders” included in the House-passed long-term spending package, H.R. 1, that would deny federal funding to Planned Parenthood and strip the EPA of its ability to regulate greenhouse gases. As Reid put it: Republicans want to shut the government down over “women’s health and clean air.” Regarding the likelihood of a shutdown, he said: “It looks like we’re headed in that direction.”

Boehner told reporters at a press conference that these claims were bunk, claiming differences over a number on spending cuts as well as the policy riders. “We made some progress last night,” he said. “Or at least I thought we did…There’s far more than one provision that’s holding up any agreement, I can tell you that…There is still a disagreement in terms of making real spending cuts.”

Following Boehner’s press conference, Reid and other Senate Democratic leaders held one of their own, stepping up their attacks on the “extreme” Tea Party, and apparently competing with each other over who could produce the best political soundbite:

Sen. Dick Durbin (D., Ill.):

  • “This is no longer about the budget deficit, it’s about bumper stickers.”
  • “[Boehner] has to tell his Tea Party rough riders to put the horses in the barn.”

Sen. Chuck “Shutdown” Schumer (D., N.Y.):

  • “We’re circling the runway on a deal right now, and waiting for the Speaker to come in for a landing.”
  • “We have reached the 10-yard line many times now, but the Speaker keeps moving the goal posts. We can strike a deal to avoid a shutdown if, very simply, the Speaker will stand up to the Tea Party once and for all.”

“The Tea Party is trying push through it’s extreme agenda,” Reid said. “The Tea Party cheers for a shutdown, and I mean that with no hyperbole.” The Senate leader continued to argue that Democrats have already been extremely conciliatory in the negotiations, having met Republicans more than halfway. “We’ve bent and bent and bent as much as the caucus will bend,” he said.

Rhetoric aside, all signs seems to suggest that a deal is on the horizon, even if it ultimately goes down to the very last minute. The mood of everyone involved has changed perceptibly. Both Boehner and Reid cracked jokes with reporters during their press conferences, and were noticeably more upbeat than they have seemed all week. Toward the end of his, Boehner seemed to fairly honestly and accurately summarize the state of the negotiations.

“We do public policy here in Washington and we do it in a political setting,” he said. “All of us in the room want this to be over.”

UPDATE: Reid and Boehner emerged without a deal following this afternoon’s meeting at the White House, but another one is scheduled for 7:00 p.m. Negotiators are said to be discussing a number in the range of $35-40 billion in spending cuts, while policy riders continue to be sticking point. Rep. Jim Jordan’s position is a telling indicator of where the Republican conference stands on those issues.

In an effort resolve the status of the riders, Senate Democrats are now offering to hold separate votes on all of the GOP policy provisions (where few, and likely none, would receive the 60 votes needed to pass). Sen. Schumer said it would be “impossible” to avoid a government shutdown unless Republicans “back off” on policy riders, specifically the provisions to defund Planned Parenthood and restrict the EPA’s ability to regulate greenhouse gasses.

Meanwhile, House Republicans have passed a one-week spending resolution to keep the government open for another week that would ensure full funding for the Defense Department in the event of a shutdown. It would also cut spending by $12 billion. However, Senate Democrats insist that the bill is a “non-starter” and President Obama has threatened a veto, which has Republicans “outraged.”

A GOP aide points out: “Everything in this CR will be in the final bill if a deal gets made; there’s no good reason for Democrats to oppose it.” And as Katrina points out, Democratic objections over the provision banning taxpayer funding for abortion in D.C. are simply laughable.


UPDATE II: Harry Reid, in an interview with CNN shortly before tonight’s summit at the White House, says the odds of a government shutdown are “no better than 50-50.”

UPDATE III (9:17 p.m.): The White House meeting is over, but no press conference tonight. If there is a deal, it likely won’t be announced until Boehner has run it by House Republicans (and assuming he can get a significant majority to go along). One GOP source says they “would be surprised” if there wasn’t a deal by tomorrow.

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