Schumer cites 'glimmer of hope' for deal

Key figures in Congress expressed optimism that a government shutdown will be avoided as President Obama and Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) discussed the ongoing negotiations during a brief phone call.

House and Senate appropriators worked late into the night following a Tuesday afternoon meeting between Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Wednesday.

Schumer said he was slightly more hopeful than the day before that a deal could be reached to prevent a shutdown after Friday, when current funding runs out. 

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"I hope there won't be a shutdown. There is a glimmer of hope," Schumer said.

Schumer said appropriators undertook discussions late into the night because of the Reid-Boehner meeting, which he called a "glimmer of hope that we can come to a deal."

During their conversation, Boehner told Obama he is "hopeful" a spending deal can be reached, the Speaker's office said. 

"The Speaker reiterated that the House’s goal is to prevent a government shutdown and make real cuts in spending, which the Speaker has argued is necessary to support private-sector job creation and boost confidence in the nation’s economy," a readout from Boehner's office said. "He told the President he remains hopeful a deal can be reached and that talks would continue." 

The call, which Obama initiated, lasted approximately three minutes, Boehner's office said. 

Obama left Washington for events in Philadelphia and New York on Wednesday afternoon and evening, though he has said he would convene budget meetings at the White House every day until a deal is reached. Boehner will brief House Republicans on the state of talks later Wednesday afternoon.


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Separately, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), a leader of the congressional Tea Party Caucus, predicted a deal would be reached by Friday.

“I firmly believe that by Friday this deal will be made and that there won't be a shutdown," she said during an interview on MSNBC. “I actually do think we will reach an agreement and move on.”

By moving on, Bachmann made it clear that Congress would reach a deal allowing it to debate the 2012 budget. Republicans on Tuesday introduced a budget that would cut spending by $5.8 trillion over the next decade, a fight that makes the current battle over around $30 billion in 2011 spending seem like small potatoes.

Boehner and Reid released identical statements following their Tuesday meeting affirming their commitment to “continue working on a budget solution.” The positive message was a contrast to comments both made on Monday, when they sought to blame one another for a possible shutdown.

Democrats have offered $33 billion in spending cuts for 2011, while Republicans have approved legislation trimming spending by $61 billion. At a White House meeting on Tuesday, however, Boehner reportedly changed his offer to $40 billion.

While Schumer and Bachmann expressed optimism, the Office of Management and Budget prepared to discuss how the administration would handle a shutdown that could furlough hundreds of thousands of workers and close national parks and museums.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said, in his view, the odds are diminishing that Democratic and Republican leaders will strike an accord.
 
"Today, I think it's 50-50," Graham said when asked if he thinks the federal government will be open next Monday. A day earlier he was "pretty sure" a shutdown would be avoided.

On the Senate floor, Reid sought to put pressure on the GOP by presenting Republicans as intransigent. 

“They said no when we met them halfway and then they said, 'It's our way or the highway,’ ” said Reid. 

“Every time we agree to meet in the middle, they move where the middle is,” continued Reid. “It's like trying to kick a field goal and the whole goalpost keeps moving." 

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) countered that Reid is “rooting for a shutdown.” 

“Throughout this entire debate Republicans have not only said we prefer a bipartisan agreement that funds the government, but there is already a Republican plan on the table right now that would do just that," said McConnell, who referred to the legislation approved by the GOP-held House.

In his remarks, Schumer suggested the composition of spending cuts is a major focus of the talks, and that it would be difficult for Democrats to agree to the $40 billion mark.

“Above $33 billion, you're really starting to cut into the bone,” he said, citing damage to cancer research and college scholarships. “We think it is the fair number.”

Schumer said that there can be no compromise on policy riders included in the GOP funding bill that would defund Planned Parenthood and environmental regulations.

He also said Democrats did not take a Republican one-week stopgap bill offered on Monday seriously at all, noting it contained a rider forbidding District of Columbia funding for abortions that would be difficult for Democrats to accept.

The measure would have cut spending this year by $12 billion, while funding the Defense Department for the rest of the fiscal year.

For days, both sides in the spending fight have said the other would get the brunt of the blame from voters for a shutdown, though polls have provided a mixed picture of who would suffer the political fallout.

Schumer continued to argue Tuesday that voters will see GOP leaders as being to blame because of the Tea Party movement. Some Tea Party leaders have called for Republicans to allow a shutdown if all of their demands are not met.

“People will realize ... it is because the Tea Party had too much influence over Speaker Boehner and the Republican Caucus,” Schumer said. “These are the people who say shut it down.”

He pointed out that there is not a lot of video footage of Democrats saying, “Shut it down,” but there is of Republican politicians.

In his remarks, at an event sponsored by Politico, Schumer also praised Obama, who urged the two sides to reach a deal from the White House briefing room on Tuesday. Schumer said Obama had saved his best shots for the end of the debate.

—John T. Bennett and Jordan Fabian contributed. 

This post was first published at 10:12 a.m.