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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

Reporting from Washington — 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 already trimmed 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. But it would be only about half of the $61 billion that House Republicans approved in February, which the GOP argues was consistent with its demand last fall for $100 billion in cuts from President Obama's budget plan.

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."

But a spokesman for House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) said no agreement had been reached. Republicans want not only more cuts but inclusion of their policy priorities, such as defunding Planned Parenthood and 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, when conservative "tea party" activists plan to rally at the Capitol to demand spending cutbacks.

lmascaro@tribune.com

mmemoli@tribune.com

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