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Republican leaders agree to budget talks

Vice President Biden and GOP and Democratic Senate leaders are set to talk today about working out a long-term budget deal. Republican leaders had initially balked at the talks.

March 03, 2011|By Michael A. Memoli and Lisa Mascaro, Washington Bureau

Reporting from Washington — After initially balking at talks, Republican leaders have agreed to sit down with Vice President Biden and Senate Democrats on Thursday afternoon as lawmakers work to reach a long-term budget deal by the new March 18 deadline.

With both parties privately doubtful about prospects for an agreement, the White House has stepped in to prevent a succession of temporary measures, which officials worry will create uncertainty in the economy. President Obama, before signing the continuing resolution Wednesday, announced he would task Biden as well as his budget director and chief of staff with leading negotiations on a final budget for the remainder of the fiscal year.

In response, Republican leaders demanded that Democrats first present their own budget offer before agreeing to talks and complained that the White House did not personally extend an invitation. The GOP-led House already has passed a budget with cuts of more than $61 billion.

Democrats maintain that their opening offer is already on the table — a freeze in spending levels. Coupled with the reductions passed Wednesday, they contend they are nearly halfway to meeting the GOP goal for federal spending reductions.

Ultimately, though, Republicans agreed to a meeting.

"Republicans are happy to go," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Thursday. "But putting a meeting on the schedule doesn't change the fact that neither the White House nor a single Democrat in Congress has proposed a plan that would allow the government to remain open and that would respond to the voters by reining in spending."

The meeting will take place on Capitol Hill.

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