The U.S. Capitol is illuminated at night as Congress continues to work to… (Associated Press )
Reporting from Washington — Negotiations continued Friday in an effort to forestall a federal government shutdown even as both parties dug into rhetorical arguments blaming each other for the impasse.
House Republicans and Senate Democrats huddled in their respective caucuses Friday afternoon ahead of a midnight deadline to pass a new funding measure. President Obama phoned House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) separately for updates, with the White House saying that negotiations are continuing at the staff level with counterparts on Capitol Hill.
After meetings at the White House on Thursday, the parties said differences had been narrowed, but on Friday each blamed the other for lingering differences.
Briefing reporters, Reid seemed confounded as to Republicans' ultimate goal. Democrats, he said, were now offering $38 billion in spending reductions, and that Thursday night's White House meeting produced agreement on all but one of the GOP's favored spending guidelines — which would restrict abortion services.
"The House leadership, with the speaker, have a very clear choice to make. And they don't have much time to make that choice," said Reid, flanked by the entire Senate Democratic caucus.
"They can keep their word and significantly cut the federal deficit, or they can shut down America's government over women's access to healthcare. If that sounds ridiculous, it's because it is ridiculous."
Reid said both parties had agreed to $38 billion in spending reductions for the remainder of the 2011 fiscal year, which ends in September. They also agreed on all but one of the GOP's favored spending guidelines — which would restrict abortion services. Now, Republicans were reneging on that agreement, Reid said.
Republicans maintain that there is no agreement on the level of spending cuts for the remainder of the 2011 fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30.
Participants in a meeting between Boehner and the House Republican caucus said the speaker told them a deal was within reach – but the hang-up was over spending, not social policy. Boehner, who members say remained upbeat, did not discuss specific numbers but said the issue of the so-called riders had been resolved.
Members were also told to remain close by through the afternoon.
"We're not going to roll over and sell out the American people like it's been done time and time again here in Washington," Boehner said after meeting. "When we say we're serious about cutting spending, we're damn serious about it."
But another leading House Republican, Study Committee Chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), was scheduled to hold a conference call with a leading antiabortion organization, with an advisory declaring: "President to Shut Down Government to Keep Planned Parenthood Running."
Earlier, Boehner urged the Senate to vote on a six-month defense appropriations bill that the House passed Thursday, which included a one-week funding extension for the rest of the government.
The Senate has included on Friday's calendar the possible consideration of its own stopgap measure, though it is unclear how it would differ from the House's version. Senate Democrats plan a caucus meeting Friday afternoon.
The effect of a shutdown that would begin at midnight would be felt immediately by some, particularly in the nation's capital, where monuments and museums would be closed at the start of the peak tourism season.
An estimated 800,000 federal workers nationwide would also be furloughed, and members of the U.S. military would see paychecks potentially delayed if a solution is not reached quickly.
Obama canceled a planned trip to Indiana on Friday so he could monitor talks. A planned weekend getaway to Williamsburg, Va., is also unlikely to occur if a deal is not reached.