Deal on federal budget seems unlikely, officials say

By Carl Hulse

New York Times News Service

Published: Friday, March 25 2011 10:33 p.m. MDT

He did say that Vice President Joe Biden had consulted Thursday with both Boehner and Sen. Harry Reid, the majority leader.

The heated meeting Tuesday was the first with participation by representatives of the House Appropriations Committee, which drafted the House plan and saw that bill as providing the most legitimate framework for the budget talks.

But Democrats argue that using the House measure, which the president has promised to veto, puts them at a disadvantage.

Failure to reach agreement without another stopgap measure could cause a number of federal operations to be halted after April 8. Both Senate and House officials said they believed it would be very difficult to advance another short-term budget bill after numerous lawmakers said the temporary measure now in place would be the last one they would support before considering a plan to finance the government through Sept. 30.

The fight over spending levels for the current fiscal year — through Sept. 30 — will be followed by two others that could be even more contentious. Congress will be asked this spring to increase the federal debt limit, a measure that many conservatives say they will oppose unless President Barack Obama is willing to accede to a package of deep spending cuts. The two parties will also be at odds over a budget for next year, with House Republicans intending to introduce into that fight proposals to rein in the long-term costs of entitlement programs like Medicare and Medicaid.

The budget showdown between Democrats and the new House Republican majority is caught up in strong political currents since House conservatives are pushing for steep spending cuts in the current fiscal year and pressing the leadership to not give much ground.

But negotiations had been continuing among representatives of the White House, Boehner and Reid, with Democrats proposing spending reductions they said would total more than $20 billion, while Republicans expressed a willingness to give some ground on their $61 billion figure.

"We're getting closer on the number," Schumer said in an interview on MSNBC on Friday morning.

Officials said an agreement on spending reductions in the vicinity of $30 billion to $40 billion had seemed possible before Tuesday's abbreviated negotiating session, but lawmakers and their aides seemed uncertain Friday about where the talks would head, given the tough partisan statements and persistent disputes over the makeup of any budget deal.

In another development that could influence the debate, Tea Party groups are planning to rally outside the Capitol on Thursday to encourage Republicans to hold firm on their budget cuts.

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