"Tea Party" supporters hold placards during a rally in Washington… (Mandel Ngan / AFP / Getty…)
Reporting from Washington — Budget talks continued Thursday on a compromise that would avoid a federal government shutdown, even as "tea party" protesters gathered outside the Capitol, urging Republicans not to stray from the $61 billion in cuts already approved by the House.
A tentative deal would result in cuts of about half that -- $33 billion in cutbacks in one of the largest onetime reductions in domestic government programs.
But House Speaker John Boehner insisted Thursday that Republicans had not agreed to that level of reductions. He said the GOP was holding out for the House-passed bill that included dozens of such politically divisive policy priorities as defunding Planned Parenthood and gutting the Environmental Protection Agency. That bill died in a Senate vote.
"We're going to continue to fight for everything that's in it," Boehner said Thursday.
Pressure on Republicans remains intense as conservatives view a compromise as a violation of the GOP's fall campaign promise to cut spending by $100 billion. Republican leaders have argued that that has been fulfilled with the proposed $61 billion in cuts this year.
Under gray skies, the influential conservative group Tea Party Patriots converged on Capitol Hill, telling members of Congress that it would be worth a shutdown to achieve the promised level of cuts.
"Cut it or shut it," they cheered.
Rep. Mike Pence (R-Indiana), a conservative favorite of the small-government activists, announced from the stage: "It's time to pick a fight."
Jenny Beth Martin, a co-founder of Tea Party Patriots, the group that organized the rally, said the House GOP must stand firm.
"They can't go lower than $61 billion," she said. "They've already compromised."
White House spokesman Jay Carney on Thursday called the House measure "not viable," because it failed to clear the Senate.
Carney suggested that Boehner and other Republican leaders wanted to avoid a shutdown and that the administration was optimistic about reaching an accord.
"We do not have a deal," he cautioned. "But there is a target number from which the details can be worked out."
Negotiators for Boehner and Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.), the Senate majority leader, continued to talk as appropriation committees began detailing government programs and services to cut.
In announcing the tentative deal, Vice President Joe Biden acknowledged late Wednesday that the outcome hinged on the details of the cuts.
The deal would cut $23 billion from the remaining 5 1/2 months of the fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30. Coupled with $10 billion in cuts already enacted into law, the package would amount to $33 billion in cuts over current spending levels.
Difficult discussions remain over the programs and services that would be reduced or eliminated and which GOP priorities would remain in the package.
"Now we have to figure out how to get there," Reid said Thursday.
He acknowledged the difficulty Boehner faced. "I'm sure it's not easy trying to negotiate with the tea party screaming in his right ear."