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Lawmakers return to Washington this week with the threat of a government shutdown revived because staff-level talks on a long-term spending bill have made little headway.
Democratic and Republican leaders are hoping discussions between staff from the White House and the offices of Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) — which continued throughout the weeklong recess — will lead to a deal that averts a government shutdown when the current spending bill expires April 8.
According to aides, those talks have involved the spending reductions to be included in the final six-month bill, as well as the politically thorny issue of policy riders. Conservatives in the House have demanded a host of riders, ranging from abortion limits to the zeroing out of President Barack Obama’s health care law.
On Friday, Senate Democratic Conference Vice Chairman Charles Schumer (N.Y.) said he believes the talks have been fruitful.
“We are making progress on the budget right now,” Schumer said during an interview on MSNBC. “The good news is there’s been progress made on the number. We’ve moved up … they’re moving down.”
Schumer said that there is still a dispute over what will be cut, and he suggested there could be cuts from mandatory spending programs, such as payments to drug companies, other Medicare and Medicaid suppliers, and agriculture subsidies, instead of limiting the cuts to the 12 percent of the budget represented by domestic discretionary accounts.
Democratic aides said progress had been made between the Boehner and Reid camps, but things hit a snag Wednesday when House appropriators insisted on using H.R. 1, the original long-term CR, as the starting point for negotiations instead of the cuts in the already passed CRs.
And on Friday, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney dismissed GOP complaints, sticking to the administration’s weeks-old position that Obama has met Republicans “halfway” on the spending dispute.
“We’ve come more than halfway toward the Republicans. And negotiations are ongoing at many levels,” Carney said.
Republicans, however, have downplayed the success of the talks so far.
In a statement, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (Va.) argued Schumer’s claims of progress “are completely farfetched.
“Leader Reid, Senator Schumer and the White House continue to abandon their responsibility to get our fiscal house in order by negotiating off of the status quo and refusing to offer any sort of serious plan for how to cut spending.”
In an interview with Fox Business News late last week, Cantor said things looked bleak: “So right now, we’re saying look, if they want to shut the government down because they have got to protect every last dollar and cent of federal spending, then that will be on their hands.”