By Russell Berman - 03/03/11 06:15 PM EST
When Democratic leaders enter a budget meeting with Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) Thursday afternoon, they will have a message ready for their Republican counterparts: We’ve already met you halfway.
From Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to the White House, Democrats in recent days have settled on an opening bargaining position for negotiations over federal spending cuts that will likely lead right up to, and perhaps past, the new March 18 deadline.
Republicans have already defined their starting point as the $61 billion in cuts from current spending the House GOP approved last month, which they describe as being $100 billion less than President Obama’s budget request for 2011.
Democrats say that by passing a spending bill in December that reduced Obama’s proposal by $41 billion, and by agreeing to an additional $8 billion in cuts over the next month, they have already taken a significant step in the GOP’s direction.
“We have met them halfway, which in many ways is a perfect definition of an attempt to compromise,” White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters on Wednesday. “We can do more and we will look to these negotiations to find the common ground that we believe exists. And we expect that those who are participating in the negotiations in Congress will also demonstrate a willingness to find common ground by, again, moving towards the middle.”
Lawmakers and aides in both the House and Senate say Democrats are willing to consider more reductions, but their opening position is meant to refute the Republican claim that Democrats have merely stood on the sideline during the budget process in recent weeks.
Pelosi underscored that argument on Thursday, telling reporters that “Democrats stand ready to meet Republicans halfway.” She soon explained that statement as referring to the $100 billion benchmark that both sides have adopted. The former Speaker refused to get more specific about the number or details about cuts the Democrats might accept.
“It’s not only the amount of cuts. It’s what is being cut,” Pelosi said.
Another major sticking point will be the policy provisions that Republicans tacked onto the House bill, which include restrictions defunding the implementation of the healthcare law, funding for Planned Parenthood, and many other departments and organizations.
Republicans dismiss out of hand the Democratic claim that they have already met them halfway.
Referring to the $41 billion shaved off the president’s initial budget request in December, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said on Thursday: “That’s not cuts. That’s the status quo.”