Government Shutdown Looms Large As Deal Talks Intensify

WASHINGTON -- Congressional negotiators held what were described as "productive" talks Tuesday afternoon in an effort to pass a spending measure that would cut tens of billions of dollars from the federal budget. But with just days remaining before the federal government runs out of money, there was only muted optimism that lawmakers would be able to avert a government shutdown.

Hours after President Barack Obama chastised Congress for failing to find an agreement on a budget deal, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and appropriators from each party met at the Capitol for yet another set of negotiations over a proposal to cut $33 billion in federal spending. A top Democratic official who was briefed on the talks said there were "some glimmers of progress." Attendees, "felt better than they have for a long time," the official added.

By Wednesday morning, however, it wasn't clear whether enough progress had been made. Speaking on the Senate floor, Reid excoriated Republican lawmakers for refusing to meet Democrats in the middle. President Obama, meanwhile, had left town for a townhall meeting on energy security in Pennsylvania. Aides said that they would call congressional leaders back to the White House to meet with administration officials if they thought it would help move talks along.

With the government due to run out of funds Friday, several major differences remain between the two parties. In a Tuesday meeting at the White House, Boehner suggested he could secure the necessary votes for the budget if Democrats were willing to increasing spending cuts to $40 billion from the currently proposed $33 billion. An Obama administration official scoffed at the idea that Democrats might sign off on $7 billion more in cuts without an outright guarantee that the continuing resolution would then pass.

Money, however, is only one component of the CR debates. Negotiators must also figure out what policy amendments to scrap from the bill. The White House has threatened to oppose several measures, including one that would de-fund Planned Parenthood, another that would undermine implementation of the health care overhaul, and a third rider that would restrict the regulatory power of the EPA.