Democratic and Republican leaders scrambled late Tuesday to salvage their weeks-long negotiations over a long-term spending bill after talks collapsed in an exchange of partisan fireworks.
Although Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) for days have been working on a deal based on $33 billion in cuts, those negotiations stalled as Republicans hardened their demand for larger reductions. A day that was expected to yield a final deal for funding the federal government through the rest of this year devolved into a mad flurry of conflicting messages and politically aimed attacks.
In a sign of how far they had drifted, Reid and Boehner met in the Speaker’s office for 40 minutes Tuesday afternoon to discuss the status of negotiations. But the meeting ended with the two sides no closer to a deal, and aides said talks would have to continue.
The standoff was triggered late Monday night when Boehner proposed a one-week stopgap measure that would cut a net total of $6 billion from the budget while also funding the Defense Department through September.
Senate Democrats quickly dismissed the proposal, insisting it was a non-starter.
But White House officials were initially not so aggressive in their opposition. For instance, during his morning meeting with reporters, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney refused to rule out a deal on a one-week bill.
“That’s getting ahead of the process. We believe that we can reach an agreement on funding for the full year if people sit around a table in a good-faith effort. … I don’t want to presume that we can’t reach a deal when we believe that we can. [But] what we have said and our position remains that it is not good for the economy,” Carney said.
But even as Carney was looking to strike a noncommittal tone, Republicans were hammering Democrats, charging their reluctance to embrace the Boehner proposal was proof they were intent on shutting down the government.
For instance, Majority Leader Eric Cantor (Va.) told reporters, “When the White House and the Senate dismissed this measure out of hand, they’re the ones increasing the likelihood now that you are going to see Americans really suffer because of a government shutdown.”
Following a meeting with Boehner and Reid — and hours of being attacked by Republicans — Obama’s position hardened significantly. In an unannounced press conference just before 2 p.m., Obama slammed both sides, demanding that they “act like grown-ups” even as he dismissed Boehner’s proposal outright.
“We are now at the point where there’s no excuse to extend this further. If over the next 24 to 48 hours a deal is done and we just can’t get the paperwork through Congress quick enough, and they want to do a clean extension for two or three days in order to go ahead and complete a deal, then that’s something that we could support,” Obama told reporters.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.