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Possible deal in works as shutdown deadline nears

By David Espo

Associated Press

Published: Friday, April 8 2011 8:15 p.m. MDT

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. pauses during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday, April 8, 2011, after meeting with the Senate Democratic Caucus. From left are: Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., Reid, and Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin of Ill., Sen. Thomas Carper, D-Del., Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash.

J. Scott Applewhite, Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Perilously close to a government shutdown, the White House and congressional leaders reached out for a possible deal to cut tens of billions of dollars in federal spending and avert the closure, officials said Friday night.

House Republican leaders summoned their rank and file to a late night meeting for what aides said would be an update on the talks.

Democrats said they were reviewing the details of a possible tentative agreement.

The developments unfolded as the administration readied hundreds of thousands of furlough notices for government workers and warned that federal services from national parks to tax-season help centers would be shuttered without a deal by midnight.

"We know the whole world is watching us today," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., during a day that featured incendiary, campaign style rhetoric as well as intense negotiation.

Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, told reporters gathered outside House Speaker John Boehner's office there was no agreement yet, and there was no claim to the contrary from the White House or Senate Democrats.

But other Republicans said the framework of a tentative agreement was in place, ready to be outlined for the newly empowered GOP House majority that came to Congress determined to cut spending and rein in government.

Boehner drew strong applause as he walked into the private meeting. According to an email message from one person in attendance, the Ohio Republican began by saying there was no agreement, then proceeded to lay out the framework that was emerging from the negotiations.

Any agreement was likely to include spending cuts in the range of $38 billion to $40 billion while funding the government through the Sept. 30 end of the fiscal year.

Republicans also pushed for dozens of non-spending measures favored by conservatives, but it seemed likely most of them would be jettisoned.

Earlier in the evening, Boehner indicated his own optimism about a deal, telling reporters, "I was born with a glass half full."

Reid, Obama and Boehner all agreed a shutdown posed risks to an economy still recovering from the worst recession in decades.

But there were disagreements aplenty among the principal players in an early test of divided government — Obama in the White House, fellow Democrats in control in the Senate and a new, tea party-flavored Republican majority in the House.

"Republican leaders in the House have only a few hours left to look in the mirror, snap out of it and realize how positively shameful that would be," Reid said at one point, accusing Republicans of risking a shutdown to pursue a radical social agenda.

Hours later, Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said on the Senate floor Republicans had abandoned a demand to remake a federal program that provides family planning services and women's health care in a way that could jeopardize funding for Planned Parenthood.

The proposal drew withering criticism from Democrats during the day, and unexpectedly, several conservative Republican senators urged their counterparts in the House not to shut the government down over the issue.

It was not clear what, if any, substitute might be agreed to.

Republicans and Democrats alike said the GOP appeared to be abandoning a demand to block numerous Environmental Protection Agency regulations on polluters. A federal study of the likely economic impact of the agency's rules was one possible alternative under discussion, they added.

For much of the day, Reid and Boehner disagreed about what the disagreement was about.

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