As shutdown looms, Obama invites Reid, Boehner to discuss budget

Generic of government shutdown. Capitol dome with lock and flag
Capitol dome with lock and flag

With a government shutdown looming at the end of this week, President Obama will meet on Tuesday with a handful of congressional leaders - including House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid - to discuss the budget, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney confirmed in a press briefing on Monday.

With only four days before the latest continuing resolution to fun the government runs out, congressional leaders on both sides of the aisle are scrambling to hammer out a deal.

Carney told reporters on Monday that Mr. Obama had invited Boehner and Reid, as well as Senate Appropriations Chairman Dan Inouye and House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers, to participate in discussions regarding "ongoing negotiations on a funding bill to bring us through the end of this year."

"The president has made clear that we all understand the need to cut spending, and significant progress has been made in ... agreeing that we can all work off the same number, $73 billion in spending cuts in this year alone," Carney said.

Carney also reiterated the White House's determination to prevent a government shutdown - which he argued would endanger the fragile U.S. economy and prove "the height of irresponsibility."

"I don't want to speculate about the consequences of getting this [done] save to say nobody believes that it is good for the economy to run a government in a way where it stops, starts, funding is dependent every two weeks on these kinds of negotiations," he said. "The president made those phone calls and is calling this meeting precisely because he is concerned [about keeping the government funded]."

Still, the continued public sparring over how to resolve the enormous discrepancy between Democrats' and Republicans' proposed budgets seems to indicate that hurdles remain.

In remarks on the Senate floor today, Reid said Congress had "made some progress" over the weekend but that "we're not where we should be yet."

The Nevada Democrat added that "it's clear that those sitting at the negotiating table have different priorities" and argued that "Republicans in the Tea Party continue to reject reality and insist instead on ideology."

"Democrats stand ready to meet the Republicans halfway and the Senate stands ready to meet the House halfway," Reid said in his remarks. But, he said, "Tea Party Republicans refuse to recognize that their budget is simply an appalling proposal. They stomp their feet and call compromise a dirty word and insist on a budget that will hurt America rather than help it."

That budget, Reid argued, "slashes programs for the sake of slashing programs," and "chops zeros off the budget for nothing more than bragging rights."

Rogers fired back in a statement on Monday afternoon, arguing that Reid was "attempting to abuse the budget process and limit the ability of Appropriations negotiators to complete their work - dictating the use of gimmicks and phony accounting to sneak more spending through the Congress and by the American people."

"My Committee entered into budget negotiations last week in good faith, with a clear purpose of reducing federal spending and finally finishing this funding legislation by working together with the Senate," said Rogers, a Kentucky Republican. "While we have made some progress - and hope to continue to do so - we cannot and will not falter in our commitment to concrete spending cuts that will start the downward trajectory of federal budgets for years to come."

"It is my sincere hope that Leader Reid will let the will of the American people prevail by allowing negotiators to produce real spending reductions, prevent a government shutdown, and bring this drawn-out saga to an end," he added.

Vice President Biden, along with Chief of Staff Bill Daley and Budget Director Jacob Lew, have been heavily engaged with congressional leaders to work out a deal. But Republicans have been facing increasing pressure from conservatives and Tea Party members to resist compromise - even if it means letting the government shutdown.  

In a statement, a spokesperson for Boehner indicated that he remained open to working out a deal. "The Speaker hopes to meet with the President to discuss the need to keep the government open while making real cuts in spending, and we're working with the White House to schedule that meeting."

Meanwhile, House Republicans are preparing a 2012 budget bill that will surely bring about yet more debate. The proposal would include $4 trillion in spending cuts over the next ten years, and would bring about major changes to the nation's Medicare and Medicaid programs.

In an interview with Fox News on Sunday, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., argued that such major overhauls were necessary sacrifices to save the programs. "We are going to put out a plan that gets our debt on downward trajectory and gets us to a point of giving our next generation a debt-free nation," he said.