Afternoon White House talks yield no deal, Reid 'not really optimistic'

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) returned to the White House Thursday night for a second meeting with President Obama over a potential budget deal. 

But Reid did not sound an optimistic note before the negotiating session.

"I am not really optimistic," said Reid at about 7:45 p.m. on the Senate floor. "I hope things are better when we get to the White House."

Reid and Boehner emerged from a White House meeting earlier Thursday without a spending deal in hand.

Speaking outside the White House, the two leaders characterized the talks with President Obama as productive, with Reid adding that the parties “are going to start over again at 3 today to see if we can work through the issues."

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Boehner called the conversations with Obama "polite” and “to the point,” but stressed “there is no agreement.” He said he believes “we can get through to an agreement, but we're not there yet."

Boehner said he asked Obama to support the GOP's one-week funding measure that would cut spending by $12 billion and fund the military for the remainder of the fiscal year, but was "disappointed" that the president reiterated his threat to veto it. The House passed the measure, 247-181, on Thursday afternoon.

Speaking after Boehner, Reid stepped up and told reporters, "See you back here at 7 o’clock," referring to another planned round of talks with Obama at the White House. The meeting was later pushed back to 8 p.m.

If a deal isn't reached by then, he said, Friday will be a "bad day," with the federal government on the brink of shutting down. The government's spending authority expires at midnight Friday.

"I'm disappointed we haven't been able to get something done to this point," Reid said. "But I'm pleased that we're still working."

Earlier in the day, Boehner said there is “far more than one provision” holding up an agreement.

“Talks to resolve last year’s budget mess are progressing, but there is no agreement yet,” Boehner told reporters at a press conference in the Capitol. “No agreement on the numbers and no agreement on the policy issues that were moved through the House.”

The Speaker rejected Reid’s claim that a dispute over abortion and environmental regulations — and not the level of spending cuts — was the only obstacle to an agreement.
 
“There’s far more than one provision that’s holding up any agreement, I can tell you that,” Boehner said as he defended the policy restrictions, known as riders, that House Republicans are demanding.
 
The dueling statements dimmed hopes for a last-minute deal, but the topsy-turvy nature of the talks in recent weeks has kept both lawmakers and their aides — and all of Washington — guessing. Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said the House would be in session Friday and that lawmakers would remain in town until a deal was struck.
 
Even as he described the continuing impasse, Boehner appeared more relaxed than he has of late, repeatedly joking with the reporters and photographers that packed his press conference.
 
Reid, on the other hand, said he was significantly more worried about the prospect of a shutdown now than he was Wednesday evening.

Reid blamed the stalemate on a partisan dispute over Planned Parenthood and other hot-button ideological issues, while Republicans said they had offered reasonable spending cuts and Democrats were to blame.
 
Meanwhile, the House moved forward Thursday with a bill extending funding for one week and financing the military for a year. The legislation, which also includes an abortion restriction for the District of Columbia, is designed to pressure Senate Democrats.
 
“There is no policy reason for the Senate to oppose this,” Boehner said.
 
Republicans have dubbed the measure a “troop funding bill,” and the Speaker cited the U.S. involvement in “a third war” in Libya as a reason to pass it.

Obama on Thursday afternoon threatened to veto the bill.


More on the shutdown showdown:
White House contingency plans | Obama will veto stopgap
Boehner: No pay for us | Cantor: House stays in
On The Money blog


The sharp rhetoric earlier Thursday contrasted with a sense Wednesday night that the two sides were making slow progress toward a deal. In the joint appearance with Boehner, Reid said negotiators have basically agreed to the total level of cuts for the rest of fiscal 2011 but that strong disagreement remains over controversial policy riders.

“The numbers are basically there,” Reid said. “But I’m not nearly as optimistic — and that’s an understatement — as I was 11 hours ago. The numbers are extremely close. Our differences are no longer over how much savings we get on government spending.

“The only thing holding up an agreement is an ideology,” Reid said. “I’m sorry to say [...] my friend the Speaker and the Republican leadership have drawn a line in the sand, not dealing with a deficit we know we have to deal with.

“The two main issues holding this matter up are the choice of women, reproductive rights and clean air,” Reid said. “These matters have no place in a budget bill.”

Reid said the president and Democratic leaders would not give any more ground in the talks.

“We have given everything that we can give,” he said. 

Reid on Thursday said the House stopgap, which Boehner described as a "reasonable troop funding" bill, would not pass the Senate.

“The House is now going to pass a short-term stopgap, it’s a nonstarter over here,” Reid said. “Doing that is an assured way to close the government. There are no more short-term extensions.”

Reid said he could agree to a short-term measure to keep government operating as long as it did not include controversial policy riders.

“We’ll be happy to do a clean CR, one that will allow us to work out the details of an agreement,” Reid told reporters Thursday afternoon in reference to a continuing resolution to extend funding.

Senate Democratic Policy Committee Chairman Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) dismissed a question about the possibility of the Senate amending the House's one-week stopgap and putting the ball back in Boehner’s court.

“Our focus right now is to try and get a deal because this short-term, short-term, short-term doesn’t work,” he said. “Let’s wait and see what happens at the [Thursday afternoon] White House meeting.”

Obama, in a rare late-night appearance in the White House briefing room Wednesday, said it would "inexcusable" to shut down the government over political issues.


—Pete Kasperowicz contributed.

This story was initially published at 10:15 a.m.

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