By Molly K. Hooper - 03/31/11 03:56 PM EDT
The $33 billion in spending cuts targeted by congressional negotiators is not a done deal, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) cautioned Thursday.
At a news conference, Boehner said lawmakers still have no agreement on a top-line figure for cutting 2011 spending and remain divided over controversial provisions demanded by Republicans that would defund the new healthcare law, Planned Parenthood and other White House policy objectives.
“There is no agreement on a set of numbers and nothing will be agreed to until everything is agreed to,” Boehner told reporters Thursday.
Vice President Joe Biden on Wednesday night said Republicans, Democrats and the White House were making “good progress” on a deal to avert a government shutdown after April 8, when a short-term measure funding the government expires.
Biden said negotiators are “working off the same number now” and that “there is no reason why” they can’t reach an agreement. Biden acknowledged the two sides disagree over what should be included in the spending cuts.
A source familiar with the talks said members of the Senate and House Appropriations panels are working toward a target of $33 billion in spending cuts. The goal splits the difference between $30 billion in cuts Senate Democrats have proposed and $36 billion in cuts Boehner suggested in talks with White House officials, according to the source.
But this would fall well short of the $61 billion in cuts included in a House-approved bill. Conservatives have pressed GOP leaders to not budge from that bill, which would also defund the new healthcare law and Planned Parenthood.
Boehner said Thursday that Republicans would push for the highest level of cuts possible in the negotiations and that he “hoped” negotiators would be able to hammer out an agreement before April 8.
These so-called riders could be the toughest obstacle to a final deal. Biden on Wednesday said he and President Obama “are not really big on any riders at all.” He also said the White House has made it clear which riders the administration sees as “non-starters,” but did not identify them to reporters.
Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) this week cited the Planned Parenthood and EPA riders as dealbreakers.
Boehner is scheduled to meet with the 87-member freshman class later on Thursday. He and other GOP leaders face the task of whipping support for legislation next week if the two sides can reach an agreement.
Republicans might also need support from House Democrats to win approval of legislation that does not meet all of the demands of conservatives. GOP leaders have reached out to centrist Democrats, though Republicans said those talks have focused on a more long-term deal to reduce spending.
Tea Party activists from around the country converged Thursday on the Capitol for a noontime rally designed to hold GOP leadership’s feet to the fire on any compromise with the Senate.
Boehner said he was “glad” activists were engaged in the process but added that House Republicans control only “one-half of one-third of the government here in Washington, we can’t impose our will on another body, we can’t impose our will on the Senate.”
“All we can do is fight for all of the spending cuts that we can get … and the spending limitations as well,” Boehner said.
Former Speaker Newt Gingrich, who met with freshmen Republicans on Thursday, said GOP leaders need to focus voter attention on the fact that the Democratic Senate has not approved a spending measure for the fiscal year. He noted that nearly two dozen seats held by Democrats in the Senate are up for election in 2012, which gives Republicans a chance to take the Senate.
“They should focus the country's attention on the Democrats in the Senate, on the 23 Democratic seats that are up next year, and say why don't you call the Democratic senators and ask them to go along with $61 billion," said Gingrich, who is expected to run for the GOP presidential nomination next year.
This story was updated at 2:19 p.m.