Obama, Boehner jostle for edge in spending-plan fight as deadline nears

President Obama sought Tuesday to regain momentum for Democrats in the battle over who will get the blame in the event of a government shutdown.

Obama used the bully pulpit of the White House briefing room to scold the GOP for its negotiating position and forced Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to delay his own scheduled press conference. 

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Obama’s rare appearance at the daily briefing came just as Boehner’s own scheduled 2 p.m. press conference was set to begin and culminated a period in which the president and Speaker have engaged in political gamesmanship surrounding the spending-cut fight and possible government shutdown. 

Boehner’s office on Monday initially suggested the Speaker might not attend a White House meeting with the president, and later Boehner’s office suggested he could be late. 

The president got his revenge by moving up the scheduled daily briefing to coincide with Boehner’s press conference, and cable networks carried Obama’s comments live as Boehner was forced to wait. 

Obama even used a common Boehner phrase, calling on Congress to "act like grown-ups" and strike a deal.

Obama cast the Democratic proposal to cut this year’s spending by $33 billion as a significant offer that met Republicans halfway, and he suggested the GOP would have to deal too if it were to avoid blame for a shutdown. 

“We are now at the figure that was Speaker Boehner’s original proposal,” Obama said of the White House offer to cut this year’s spending by $33 billion. “We have more than met the Republicans halfway at this point.”

Obama all but ruled out another short-term funding measure as the likelihood of the first shutdown since 1996 appeared to increase. 

“We are now at the point where there is no excuse to extend this further,” said Obama, who did indicate he could agree to a 48- or 72-hour bill to extend the government’s lifeline that included no policy riders. 

At the earlier White House meeting, Obama, Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) failed to strike a deal on a spending agreement. 

Obama has been accused by Republicans and some Democrats of taking too light a touch in the fight over spending. 

His public appearance on Tuesday was  the most aggressive step the White House has taken to outflank the GOP in the messaging war over whom voters should blame if the government stops working after Friday. 

The move came a day after Boehner sought to reassert control of the debate by way of a proposal to buy more time for negotiations with a measure that would cut $12 billion in spending while funding the entire government for one week and the Defense Department through Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year.

Boehner’s proposal proved popular with some in his own party, and was meant to put Democrats back on defense after a week in which they seemed to win the messaging fight. 

Boehner and Republicans have said for days that Senate Democrats and the White House should be blamed if there is a shutdown, and on Tuesday, after waiting for Obama to finish speaking, Boehner again said the White House was offering too little, given the size of the national debt.

“That is not acceptable to our members, and we will not agree to it,” Boehner said of the $33 billion in cuts.

He said Republicans want to “keep the government open,” but argued Senate Democrats have failed to pass a measure funding the government for the rest of the year. 

“We’re going to continue to fight for the largest cuts possible, including the policy riders,” Boehner said before abruptly leaving the press conference.

Obama struck a defiant note on the riders, saying the government shouldn’t shut down because of ideological fights over abortion, the healthcare law or climate rules the Environmental Protection Agency is promulgating. Legislation approved by the GOP-controlled House would cut off funds for the healthcare law and Planned Parenthood. 

“What we can’t be doing is using last year’s budget process to have arguments about abortion; to have arguments about the Environmental Protection Agency; to try to use this budget negotiation as a vehicle for every ideological or political difference between the two parties,” Obama said. 

In his own press conference, Reid said Democrats have reached the end of their rope on discretionary cuts as the clock ticks closer to a government shutdown. 

“We have been willing to do what is fair in ratcheting down very, very hard on programs dealing with domestic discretionary spending,” Reid said. “We can’t go any more.”

Separately, House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), who had supported two previous stopgap measures, said he would not support Boehner’s new proposal of $12 billion in cuts. 

Boehner and Reid held a one-on-one, 40-minute meeting, without staff, in the Speaker’s Capitol office late Tuesday afternoon. 

Once it was over, the two put out identical statements that said they had a “productive discussion” and had “agreed to continue working on a budget solution.”

Spokesmen for Boehner denied Democratic claims that the Speaker told Obama and Reid that any deal must win 218 Republican votes in the House. Boehner needed Democratic help to pass a stopgap measure last month after 54 Republicans defected.

Boehner will brief the House GOP conference again on Wednesday afternoon, the third such meeting of the week.

Obama said he would invite Boehner, Reid, Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) and House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) back to the White House on Wednesday if no agreement was reached Tuesday night. 

“What I said to the Speaker today, and what I said to Leader Reid, and what I’ve said to the two Appropriations chairs, is that myself, [Vice President] Joe Biden, my team, we are prepared to meet for as long as possible to get this resolved,” Obama said.

“If that issue does not get resolved and we don’t start seeing progress, I want a meeting again tomorrow here at the White House,” Obama added. “And if that doesn’t work, we’ll invite them again the day after that.”

Russell Berman, Molly K. Hooper and Mike Lillis contributed to this story.