President Barack Obama is hoping to reprise his role as deal-maker-in-chief in the budget standoff simmering on Capitol Hill.
But his eleventh-hour entry into the debate leaves him in a far less desirable position than when he deftly ushered through a bipartisan tax deal in December: The only conversations happening right now between Senate Democratic and House Republican leaders are about whose fault it will be if the negotiations fail.
After Congress narrowly averted a government shutdown this week, Obama announced Wednesday that he is dispatching Vice President Joseph Biden, White House Chief of Staff William Daley and Office of Management and Budget Director Jacob Lew to “begin meeting immediately” with Hill leaders to hash out a broader budget for the year. The announcement came within minutes of the Senate passing a two-week stopgap continuing resolution to keep the government funded past Friday.
Democratic leaders and the White House were hoping to convene today on the Senate side, but they were awaiting confirmation from Republicans.
“I’m pleased that Democrats and Republicans in Congress came together and passed a plan that will cut spending and keep the government running for the next two weeks. But we cannot keep doing business this way. Living with the threat of a shutdown every few weeks is not responsible, and it puts our economic progress in jeopardy,” Obama said in a statement.
The president said any final deal should cut spending and reduce deficits while supporting economic growth. In addition, it “should be bipartisan, it should be free of any party’s social or political agenda, and it should be reached without delay,” he said.
But Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) signaled Wednesday that they’re not about to agree to a long-term compromise until Senate Democrats produce a spending plan of their own. House Republicans passed a long-term CR last month, but Senate Democrats have refused to take it up because of the programs hit by its sweeping $61 billion in cuts.
McConnell said he was open to listening to what White House officials had to say about the budget process but that negotiations would be more appropriate if Senate Democrats passed their own proposal first.
“How do you start a conversation where one house has spoken but the other house hasn’t?” Boehner asked. “Where’s the starting point?”
Boehner said it “would be fine with me” if negotiators wanted to use the House-passed bill as a starting point.
“The House position is perfectly clear,” he said, a day after he demanded in an e-mailed statement to know, “Where is Sen. [Harry] Reid’s plan to cut spending?”
Vice President Joe Biden waits to conduct a mock swearing-in ceremony with Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, in the Capitol's Old Senate Chamber, December 2, 2014. Schatz was sworn in to serve the remainder of his term since he was appointed to the seat after Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, passed away.