Reporting from Washington — President Obama spoke by phone Wednesday with congressional leaders, who say negotiations over a budget agreement continue even as agencies are girding for a possible government shutdown.
Despite multiple meetings on Tuesday, including one at the White House, congressional Republicans and Democrats have been unable to agree on the scope of a proposed $33-billion package of domestic program cuts for the remainder of the 2011 fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30.
House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) also met one-on-one Tuesday afternoon, with each side releasing a terse statement indicating no deal was imminent.
Though he had invited them to the White House for another face-to-face meeting, Obama on Wednesday instead phoned Boehner and Reid before leaving Washington for events in Pennsylvania and New York. A Boehner spokesman said the speaker told the president he remains hopeful a deal can be reached and that talks would continue.
On the Senate floor Wednesday morning, Reid said negotiations would continue "nonstop," but blamed the internal politics of the Republican conference for the continued deadlock.
"Our bottom line hasn't changed because our objective hasn't changed: We want to keep the country running and keep the momentum of an economic recovery that's creating jobs," Reid said. "I wish I could say the same about those on the other side of the negotiating table. The Republicans' bottom line has changed at almost every turn."
Freshmen Republicans in the House are pointing the finger back at Reid, and will protest outside his office Wednesday. A letter asks the Democratic leader to reconsider his "reckless, partisan strategy of shutting down the government," and says "the American people deserve responsive leadership from those who are elected to higher office."
Obama is scheduled to return to Washington on Wednesday evening, and administration officials say another meeting with lawmakers is possible if events warrant.
Boehner also attacked the White House on Wednesday for criticizing the proposed 2012 fiscal year budget offered by House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.).
"If he wants to have an 'adult conversation' about solving our fiscal challenges, he needs to lead instead of sitting on the sidelines," Boehner said.
Meanwhile, the Office of Management and Budget briefed reporters about the consequences of a temporary lapse in government operations, saying as many as 800,000 federal workers could be furloughed. Also, the Internal Revenue Service will not process paper returns or conduct audits one week before the filing deadline, national parks would be closed during Washington's peak tourism season, and the U.S. military will not be paid, though they would continue to earn salary.
Many now expect at least a brief shutdown, though the precise duration is unclear, as is the political fallout.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) told reporters Wednesday at a breakfast sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor that he expected a furlough at least through the weekend.
"Americans don't like government but they don't want it to shut down," McCain said. "I'm still hopeful that at the last minute that they can come up with some agreement."
Tribune staff writer Lisa Mascaro contributed to this report.