White House raps Congress on budget stalemate

By Andrew Taylor

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, April 5 2011 9:26 a.m. MDT

WASHINGTON — The White House said Tuesday it was still confident Republicans and Democrats could reach an agreement to fund the government through the end of the year and avoid a shutdown, while admitting frustration at the pace of negotiations.

"We believe a deal is possible," White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters.

Carney spoke as President Barack Obama huddled with congressional leaders at the White House for talks aimed at reaching an agreement ahead of a Friday deadline to keep the government operating.

While the White House has been heavily involved in the budget discussions, it has tried to maintain a public distance from the talks, with Obama and aides repeatedly arguing that the spending measure is an appropriations function of Congress, not of the executive branch.

"The fact is that the president is calling this meeting in part because Congress can't get its work done," Carney said.

House Speaker John Boehner has proposed a stopgap weeklong measure to keep the government running past Friday. That includes $12 billion in immediate spending cuts and enough money to operate the Pentagon through the end of September.

While Carney was careful not to say whether the White House would oppose Boehner's specific proposal, he said the administration believes any short-term spending bill would be detrimental to the economy.

"It is counter-productive, we think, to assume that we have to negotiate a short term CR when we have an agreement on the table that can be reached for the full fiscal year," he said.

Boehner has already orchestrated action by Congress to pass a pair of stopgap bills, so far cutting $10 billion from an estimated $1.2 trillion budget to fund the day-to-day operations of government through Sept. 30.

Negotiations have stalled on legislation blending immediate spending cuts with the money required to run federal agencies through the end of September. Democrats are accusing the GOP of pressing harmful spending cuts and attaching a social policy agenda to the must-pass spending bill. Boehner counters that the White House is pressing gimmicky budget cuts.

The White House maintains that lawmakers from both parties have been working off a target number — $33 billion more in cuts — for days. But Boehner has publicly denied any such agreement, saying in a statement that the $33 billion "is not enough, and many of the cuts that the White House and Senate Democrats are talking about are full of smoke and mirrors."

On a separate long-term track, Republicans controlling the House have fashioned plans to slash the budget deficit by more than $5 trillion over the upcoming decade, combining unprecedented spending cuts with a fundamental restructuring of taxpayer-financed health care for the elderly and the poor.

House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., unveiled the GOP budget blueprint Tuesday morning just as Boehner, R-Ohio, headed to the White House for the meeting with Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, his chief nemesis in Congress.

Ryan estimated the proposed Republican budget cut at $6.2 trillion over 10 years. And he said in a nationally broadcast interview that lawmakers must find a way to come to grips with the financially ailing Medicaid and Medicare programs, which Ryan called "the drivers" of the federal debt.

While Ryan said that over the coming decade, his budget would slash $6.2 trillion from Obama's spending proposals, the savings as measured against the Congressional Budget Office "baseline" would be less.

And if Ryan follows past practice, he'll adopt Obama's assumption that overseas military operations will soon cost just $50 billion a year rather than current levels that are roughly three times that amount. Some have challenged such an assumption as unrealistic.

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