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Obama: Budget Deal Talks to Begin Now

President Barack Obama announced Wednesday that he is dispatching top White House officials to “begin meeting immediately” with Congressional leaders to hash out a final budget for the year.

Moments after the Senate passed a two-week stopgap measure to prevent a government shutdown, Obama said he tapped Vice President Joseph Biden, White House Chief of Staff William Daley and Jacob Lew, director of the Office of Management and Budget, to work with Hill leaders to pass a 2011 budget once and for all.

“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.

It remains unclear who among the Congressional leadership will be part of the talks; Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said he guessed it would be the top four leaders: Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

Obama’s announcement caught at least one GOP leader off guard.

Asked which lawmakers would be in the meeting, a McConnell aide replied, “Who knows? We found out about it the same time you did.”

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