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.
“But what we’re not going to do is to once again put off something that should have gotten done several months ago.”
Moments after Obama spoke to reporters, Boehner held his own hastily called press conference. The Ohio Republican castigated Democrats, accusing them of trying to obscure their desire to minimize spending reductions. Democrats “like to insist that $33 billion is their top number and to use smoke and mirrors to get there. That is not acceptable to our Members,” Boehner charged.
Across the Dome, Reid also was on the attack, accusing Republicans of refusing to move from their original demand for $61 billion in cuts.
“Republicans need to stop clinging to a bill that has already been defeated in the Senate. That bill is a non-starter. They have trouble divorcing themselves from that ideologically driven H.R. 1. They’re having a lot of trouble doing that. But we know the bill is awful,” the Nevada Democrat said.
While Boehner’s one-week proposal was getting a cool response from Democratic Party leaders, it was drawing mixed reactions from Democrats and Republicans in both chambers.
Some Senate Democrats appeared open to the bill.
“I personally think that our military men and women fighting two wars for us — and obviously what’s going on in Libya — we cannot not continue paying for this,” Sen. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.) said.
Likewise, Sen. Jon Tester, who faces a tough re-election fight next year, did not dismiss Boehner’s latest proposed short-term continuing resolution.
“I think everything needs to be on the table,” the Montana Democrat said.
But other moderate Democrats — including Sen. Ben Nelson, who is also up for re-election next year in conservative-leaning Nebraska, said another short-term spending bill was a non-starter and that they hoped a deal to fund the government through year’s end could be worked out quickly.
“One week is not anything more than kicking the can down the road, and — after that — there will be another one week,” Nelson said.
Sen. Mary Landrieu also said she was “very opposed” to another short-term continuing resolution.
“I think it’s time to get these negotiations over with and done,” the Louisiana Democrat said.
Finance Chairman Max Baucus (Mont.) said Democrats discussed efforts to fund the government at their weekly caucus lunch Tuesday and that — while there was no sense of a clear path forward after the meeting — there was a general frustration that “Republicans seem so unreasonable” in the negotiations.
In the House, the response was equally mixed.
Republican Study Committee Chairman Jim Jordan declined to say whether the conservative voting bloc would support Boehner’s one-week short-term spending cut despite the measure’s policy rider that would not allow D.C. to use local money to fund abortions for low-income women.
“We’re looking at it,” the Ohioan said. “Look, we think it’s important to fight for $61 billion in savings. That’s definitely the case for the Republican Study Committee members.”
Rep. Dennis Cardoza (D-Calif.), a vocal member of the Blue Dog Coalition, said he doesn’t support Boehner’s one-week proposal.
“I don’t think it makes any sense to punt this down the road one more week. They’ve known what the stakes are for a long time,” Cardoza said. “I think this place works better when they have a deadline.”
Kathleen Hunter and Anna Palmer contributed to this report.