WASHINGTON — Short of a deal, congressional leaders bargained and squabbled by turns Thursday on legislation to cut spending and prevent a partial government shutdown that loomed for Friday at midnight.
After all-night talks among aides, President Barack Obama summoned Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. to the White House meeting for the second time in a little over 12 hours.
Before departing the Capitol, Boehner urged the House to pass legislation to cut $12 billion, fund the Pentagon through the end of the year and keep the government running for a week. "There is absolutely no policy reason for the Senate to not follow the House in taking these responsible steps to support our troops and to keep our government open," he said.
At the same time, he accused the White House of backsliding, adding that there hadn't been as much progress as it appeared after a late-night White House meeting. "It's really just more of the same. We're going to have real spending cuts. I don't know what some people don't understand about this," he said.
Reid said otherwise, although he, too, made it clear he wants to avoid a shutdown that the White House says would cause problems for combat troops overseas and delay IRS refunds for taxpayers at home.
"The issue is ideology, not numbers," he said, criticizing Republican proposals to limit the authority of the Environmental Protection Agency and a prohibition of the use of federal or local funds to pay for most abortions in the District of Columbia.
"These matters have no place on a budget bill," he said.
Obama has expressed opposition to the week-long interim measure, and Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Wash., said the president would veto it. It's unlikely to get that far — Reid has labeled it a non-starter, as well.
Despite Reid's assertion that the two sides had largely agreed on spending cuts, Boehner said partial agreements were not possible.
It was unclear how much the talks had narrowed the differences on spending. Boehner recently floated $40 billion, more than the $33 that the negotiators had adopted as a framework, but less than the $61 that was contained in a bill the House cleared than six weeks ago.
Other policy "riders" pressed by Republicans include: blocking money to implement Obama's health care bill; effectively stripping the Environmental Protection Agency from enforcing rules on global warming, cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay and lakes in Florida; and limiting enforcement of last year's financial reform bill.
Obama emerged from the negotiations late Wednesday night to declare that differences between Republicans and Democrats had narrowed somewhat. But at this point, only urgent action can avert a shutdown of much of the government at midnight Friday, he said.
"It's going to require a sufficient sense of urgency," Obama said, "to complete a deal and get it passed and avert a shutdown."
Even a brief shutdown could affect a wide range of Americans, from troops fighting abroad who are awaiting their pay to tourists planning trips to national parks.
The move by Boehner to advance a one-week interim budget measure angered his Democratic negotiating counterparts and came after negotiations at the White House moved slower than had been hoped.
Obama told reporters that his differences with the House Republicans were narrowing but not resolved.
"I thought the meetings were frank, they were constructive, and what they did was narrow the issues and clarify the issues that are still outstanding," Obama said. "I remain confident that if we're serious about getting something done, we should be able to complete a deal and get it passed and avert a shutdown. But it's going to require a sufficient sense of urgency from all parties involved."
Boehner said Thursday that agreement remains
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