Boehner to meet with GOP conference to talk budget deal

With less than 24 hours to prevent a government shutdown, the White House and congressional leaders still had not reached a deal on Friday morning.

The two sides said they had made progress after a Thursday night meeting at the White House, and it appears only a few billion dollars in spending cuts separates Senate Democrats and the White House from House Republicans.

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A key moment could come at noon, when the House Republican Conference is set to meet. If there is to be a compromise, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) will need to convince his conference that it is the right thing for the party.

It will be a critical test of Boehner's leadership, as the Speaker has been under intense pressure from his members, including the 87-strong freshman class that created the GOP majority, to win as large a spending cut as possible in 2011.

At the same time, Boehner has repeatedly said that a shutdown must be avoided. And, in an argument meant to appeal to his members, who want to reduce government spending, he has said shutting down the government would end up costing taxpayers more than it would save.

The current resolution funding the government expires at midnight. House Republicans passed a one-week extension Thursday, which included funding the Pentagon for the rest of the fiscal year, but it is dead on arrival in the Senate, where Democrats oppose the nature of cuts in the bill, as well as some policy language on abortion. President Obama also vowed to veto it.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said Friday morning he'd introduce a one-week stopgap measure in a last-ditch attempt to avert a government shutdown.

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said the legislation would include an “emergency contingency pot” to fund U.S. troops involved in the conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya. The bill, however, would not fund the full Defense Department through the rest of fiscal 2011.

Senate Democrats will hold a special caucus meeting at 1 p.m. Friday to discuss their strategy in anticipation of a shutdown.

Boehner spoke briefly to reporters Friday morning, urging the Senate to pass the House stopgap, which he referred to as the "troop funding bill."

"I think the Senate should follow the House lead, and pass the troop funding bill, and do it today," Boehner said. He called on Obama, who's said he would veto the legislation, to sign it.

He walked away from microphones after the short statement, and took no questions.

It was part of both parties' public gamesmanship, as both sides insisted Friday there were different reasons for the stalemate.

Reid claimed that “everything” had been resolved in the talks except for GOP language dealing with abortion.

He said he and Boehner agreed to $38 billion in spending cuts for the rest of the fiscal year, $5 billion more than the target Senate and House appropriators were working toward earlier this week.

The majority leader, in a brief media availability, also said that all but a provision to cut federal support for Planned Parenthood had been settled in his negotiations with Boehner.

“Everything has been resolved, everything,” Reid said. “It's an ideological battle that has nothing to do with the fiscal integrity of this country. It has everything to do with the ideology on that other side of the Capitol.”

Reid spokesman Jon Summers said another issue involving a rider to curtail some of the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) regulatory powers had been settled.

But Boehner's office said Reid’s statement was untrue.

“While nothing will be decided until everything is decided, the largest issue is still spending cuts,” Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said in an email to reporters.

Reid and Boehner will continue negotiations throughout the day. They have met with Obama for the past three days and could return to the White House on Friday for a fourth meeting.

Obama called the leaders separately Friday morning, White House spokesman Jay Carney said in a short statement.

"This morning, the president spoke separately to Speaker Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Reid. Discussions between the leaders and the White House aimed at reaching a budget agreement are continuing," he said.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) predicted there would be an agreement "shortly."

“Neither side actually wants one [a shutdown],” McConnell said on the Senate floor Friday. “And that’s why I believe there will be an agreement here shortly.”

"I have been in many negotiation over the years," he noted. "I assure  you these are not unresolvable issues… A resolution is actually within reach.”

Some Republicans think a government shutdown could blunt the momentum the GOP has held since last fall’s elections. Budget battles in the mid-1990s between President Clinton and Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) ended poorly for the GOP, which does not want to fall into the same trap again.

Many other Republicans, however, have insisted that this year’s battle is different given the size of the $1.6 trillion deficit. Tea Party groups have called for Republicans to force a shutdown if their demands are not met.

Boehner last week said it is important to end the fight over 2011 spending so that Congress can move on to much bigger fights over raising the nation’s debt limit and future budget cuts that could involve reforms to the entitlement programs that are drivers of the deficit.

House Republicans this week introduced a 2012 budget resolution that would cut $5.8 trillion in spending over the next decade.

For the most part, Boehner has enjoyed strong support from his caucus during the battle over the 2011 budget.

The Speaker reportedly choked up at an earlier conference meeting on Wednesday while thanking his members for backing him on Thursday's stopgap measure.

— Alexander Bolton, Josiah Ryan and Sam Youngman contributed.

-- This story was last updated at 12:04 p.m.