WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama on Monday summoned key lawmakers from both parties to the White House for budget talks in hopes of avoiding a government shutdown this weekend.
The White House said the president has invited House Speaker John Boehner, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and top negotiators on the appropriations committees to a session Tuesday. Obama spokesman Jay Carney said time was running short and the president would urge the lawmakers to reach an agreement.
Carney said the White House was optimistic that a shutdown could be averted, but a top Republican did not share that optimism.
Boehner, R-Ohio, said there were still disagreements about how much to cut spending through Sept. 30, the end of the budget year. He accused the White House of bringing too many phony budget cuts to the table in hopes of restoring reductions made by Republicans in February.
"Despite attempts by Democrats to lock in a number among themselves, I've made clear that their $33 billion is not enough and many of the cuts that the White House and Senate Democrats are talking about are full of smoke and mirrors," Boehner said in a statement. "That's unacceptable."
Democratic officials knowledgeable about the proposals said the administration's ideas including taking unused money from federal highway programs and leftover funds from a program providing health care to middle-class families. Both ideas count in congressional budget terms as savings that could be used to pay for spending elsewhere in the day-to-day budgets of domestic agencies, but their practical effect is nil.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss proposals that haven't been made public.
Despite his protests, Boehner's own Republican appropriators have claimed $5 billion in questionable savings from capping payments from a trust fund for crime victims.
At issue is long-overdue legislation required to fund the operating budgets of every Cabinet agency for the ongoing budget year, which is already half over.
Negotiations have centered on cuts in the range of $33 billion — a figure that has allowed congressional staff aides to works through the measure line by line — but Boehner has repeatedly said there is no agreement on how much to cut. The White and Democrats also are balking over more than 50 policy provisions that House Republicans have attached to the measure.
Such policy "riders" include cutting off implementation of the new health care law and forbidding taxpayer money from going to Planned Parenthood.
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