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Congressional budget deal is near, Biden says

Negotiators have agreed to $23 billion in additional spending cuts for the rest of the 2011 fiscal year, the vice president says. Republicans counter that no agreement has been reached.

March 31, 2011|By Lisa Mascaro and Michael A. Memoli, Washington Bureau
  • House Speaker John Boehner, center, at a recent Capitol Hill news conference, is urging the Senate to hasten its passage of a budget bill.
House Speaker John Boehner, center, at a recent Capitol Hill news conference,… (Chip Somodevilla / Getty…)

Congressional budget negotiators have agreed to $23 billion in additional spending cuts for the rest of the 2011 fiscal year, Vice President Joe Biden said late Wednesday, but details of the reductions still could thwart a deal.

Combined with $10 billion in cuts already made through stopgap spending measures, the deal potentially represents $33 billion in reductions from the 2011 budget and would be one of the largest such cuts in history.

Biden has been presiding over negotiations to prevent a government shutdown next week, when funds from the latest temporary spending measure run out.

"We're all working off the same number now," Biden said after emerging from closed-door talks. "Obviously there's a difference in the composition of that number -- what's included, what's not included. It's going to be a thorough negotiation."

Nonetheless, a spokesman for House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) said that no agreement had been reached. Republicans have been fighting not only for a higher level of cuts but for inclusion of their policy priorities, such as defunding Planned Parenthood and President Obama's healthcare overhaul.

"There is no deal until everything is settled -- spending cuts and policy restrictions," Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said.

Biden said he spoke with Boehner and the two agreed the details would be key.

"It's the same as our position," Biden said. "There is no deal until there's a total deal."

Negotiators will meet again Thursday.

Word of a possible budget settlement comes as the GOP faces fierce conservative pressure not to compromise. "Tea party" activists plan to descend on the Capitol on Thursday for a rally.

Biden arrived at the Capitol late Wednesday, along with White House budget director Jacob Lew, for a meeting with Democratic leaders.

The proposed overall 2011 cut of $33 billion is about halfway from the $61 billion that House Republicans proposed in February.

Earlier Wednesday, Boehner demanded that the Democratic-controlled Senate pass its own budget plan so negotiations could continue.

"We believe that there is ample reason to be optimistic that common ground can be found as long as all sides roll up their sleeves and get to work," White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said at an afternoon briefing with reporters. "The differences that separate us are not so great that we cannot find a common ground in a way that each side can feel that it accomplished something in getting it done."

Earlier in the day, House GOP leaders announced they would vote Friday to make their proposal for $61 billion in cuts the "law of the land" if the Senate fails to act by April 8, when the current spending bill expires.

How exactly such legislation would pass constitutional muster is unclear, as the Senate has already voted against that bill and President Obama has vowed to veto it.

But Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), the majority leader, said the legislation was needed because of Senate inaction. The legislation also would halt paychecks for lawmakers if the government is shut down, as a Senate-passed bill already demands.

lmascaro@tribune.com

mmemoli@tribune.com

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