Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell Sunday accused President Barack Obama of not being serious about trying to slash the US deficit and government spending, as time runs out for a deal.
"Look, this is the time to get serious," McConnell told CBS television, replying, "No I don't," when asked if he thought Obama was serious about trying to get something done a March 18 deadline approaching.
Democrats and Republicans are seeking to hammer out a deal on spending cuts to draw up a budget to fund the government for the rest of the 2011 fiscal year which ends in September.
"We're prepared to do difficult things, but he must be a part of it," McConnell said on "Face The Nation," adding: "Where's the president? Where is the leadership?"
Vice President Joe Biden and top lawmakers on Thursday held their first closed-door talks on government spending cuts, seeking elusive common ground.
Neither side announced any breakthrough after the hour-long negotiations at the US Capitol, and the White House only released a terse statement from Biden saying: "We had a good meeting, and the conversation will continue."
All sides say the ballooning US deficit and swelling US debt pose a long-term economic risk and agree in principle on the need to cut spending -- but they remain far apart on how much to slash, and from what programs.
Obama late Wednesday signed a Republican-drafted stopgap measure to fund operations through March 18 while slicing $4 billion in outlays, buying time to hammer out a longer deal.
The White House and Congress must reach a deal by then unless they approve another short-term measure, or face the prospect of a partial government shutdown.
Hitting back at comments by Democratic Senator John Kerry who called the Congress budget battle reckless, McConnell said "what's reckless... is the $1.6 trillion deficit we're running this year.
"What's reckless is the $3 trillion we've added to our national debt. Our national debt is now the size of our economy. We begin to look a lot like Greece."
But White House chief-of-staff William Daley defended the administration saying Obama has vowed to cut the deficit over $1 trillion in the next 20 years.
"He's been very cognizant of the fact that we've got to get our fiscal house in order," Daley told NBC's "Meet the Press."
"However you slice it, there is a challenge to our government. First of all, no business out there would be at the end of their first quarter and not have a budget for the year that they're in," Daley said.
"We are only seven months away from the end of this fiscal year, and we don't have a budget, which is kind of ridiculous."
But he added: "I'm very optimistic that there will not be a shutdown," insisting the two sides were already about halfway towards a deal.
© AFP 2013