Obama says deal near on budget trims, but Boehner less optimistic
WASHINGTON — A bullish President Obama said yesterday that compromise is close with Republicans on $33 billion in budget cuts, and he warned that without a deal the ensuing government shutdown would “jeopardize our economic recovery’’ just as jobs are finally being created.
Despite his assessment, negotiators reported little progress, Senate Democrats backtracked on a key concession from earlier in the week, and the top House Republican sounded less optimistic than the president that a breakthrough was imminent.
“There is no number. There is no agreement on a number’’ on how much to cut, insisted House Speaker John Boehner, who is under pressure from Tea Party-backed conservatives not to give too much ground. Still, he added, “I am not preparing for a government shutdown.’’
Funding for the government expires next Friday at midnight, and without action by Congress, a partial shutdown would follow.
Nearly six weeks after the House passed a bill calling for $61 billion in cuts, it appeared the endgame was at hand in the first of what is expected to be a series of political battles over the size and scope of government.
“We will be working through the weekend to forge a compromise,’’ said Senate majority leader Harry Reid, Democrat of Nevada. At Republican insistence, Congress has already cut $10 billion in spending as part of a pair of stopgap spending bills to keep the government open for business.
While another short-term bill has not been ruled out, Obama, Boehner, Reid and others have said they would prefer to complete work on a six-month bill to close out the budget year.
Already, Republicans are looking ahead to unveiling a 2012 budget next week, after weighing privately whether to delay so they could focus all of their attention on the current clash.
Administration officials have been heavily involved in the negotiations on the spending bill, but the president struck something of an above-the-fray note yesterday.
“It would be the height of irresponsibility to halt our economic momentum because of the same old Washington politics,’’ he said, referring to strong news yesterday on jobs growth.
“It can’t be ‘my way or the highway politics,’ said the president, who has sought in recent months to recapture the support of independents who helped elect him in 2008 but defected to the Republicans in last fall’s elections.
Shortly before Obama spoke, Reid shifted the Democrats’ position on one key element of the talks, in apparent deference to environmentalists angered by an earlier concession.
“Neither the White House nor the Senate leaders are going to accept any EPA riders,’’ he said in a conference call with reporters.
House Republicans included provisions in their $61 billion package of spending cuts that would block the EPA from implementing regulations on a variety of industries.
Democratic officials indicated earlier in the week that some of them would be incorporated into an agreement.
In response to Reid’s statement, Kevin Smith, a spokesman for Boehner, said, “If they are taking EPA riders off the table, then we’re certainly not ‘close’ to a deal.’’
Meanwhile, House Republicans yesterday passed a bill that “deems’’ its budget proposal law — Senate approval or not. The vote followed a colorful debate that included lessons meant for children on how a bill becomes a law.