From left: House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Speaker John Boehner and Republican Conference Chairman Jeb Hensarling hold a news conference Tuesday as negotiations continue with the White House on a spending package.
Republican and Democratic leaders continued to negotiate a long-term spending measure Wednesday, and while both sides sniped at one another, it appears they have gotten past Tuesday’s outbreak of partisan warfare.
Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) remained tight-lipped about the status of the talks. But there were indications that progress was being made.
For instance, Boehner briefly spoke with President Barack Obama on Wednesday morning. According to his office, Boehner told Obama that “he remains hopeful a deal can be reached and that talks would continue.”
Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.) said the resumed negotiations between Boehner and Reid were “moving toward closure.”
“I feel better about it today than I did yesterday at the same time,” the Illinois Democrat said, adding that he had spoken with Reid after the Majority Leader’s Tuesday afternoon meeting with Boehner. “We haven’t finished it, but we are moving forward.”
In the most recent round of talks, Durbin said there had been “things put on the table that had not been discussed before” but declined to elaborate.
The Majority Whip acknowledged that Republicans’ push to include policy riders was still a sticking point.
“It’s one I hope that Speaker Boehner will think about because I thought this was about deficits and not policy,” he said. “And unfortunately policy issues are still on the table. I hope he doesn’t go too far.”
But while talks were continuing, so was the partisan rhetoric.
Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill) on Wednesday used an adjournment vote to protest the lack of progress on the deal and the level of cuts to discretionary spending that the GOP is demanding. Republicans easily defeated the motion.
Likewise, in a floor speech Wednesday, Reid sought to blame Republicans for the slow pace of work and complained they have not negotiated in good faith.
“Every time we agree to meet in the middle, they move where the middle is. They said no when we met them halfway. Now they say, ‘It’s our way or the highway.’ That’s no way to move forward,” Reid said.
At the same time, a moderate group of Democratic Senators on Wednesday urged Boehner to agree to a deal, arguing that partisan politics should not get in the way.
“Knowing that a bipartisan deal is within reach to cut tens of billions of dollars from current funding levels, it would be irresponsible to shut down the government and punish our constituents solely to assert a political point,” the group of Senators, led by Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.), wrote in a letter to Boehner.
Not to be outdone, House Republicans also remained on the defensive.
Ninety GOP Members signed a letter authored by Rep. Rick Crawford (R-Ark.) calling for Reid to step down and lambasting his efforts to pass spending bills.
Reid “failed to pass one single appropriations bill to fund even a single federal agency, but yet you somehow muster the nerve to say Republicans are the problem. The ball is in your court to pass a long-term spending resolution for the remainder of FY 2011,” the lawmakers wrote in the letter.
“With all due respect, if you do not plan to fulfill your responsibilities as Senate Majority Leader, perhaps it is time to step aside,” they added.
With the current spending law set to expire at midnight Friday, the negotiations will need to be wrapped up sometime Wednesday if Republicans want to stick to their rule requiring bills to be published online three days before a vote.
If negotiators are unable to finish work on a bill, the House and Senate will have to pass some sort of stopgap measure or risk a government shutdown.