Wednesday, April 6, 2011

US budget stalemate: Talks intensify to avoid shutdown

US President Barack Obama President Obama met with House Speaker John Boehner on Tuesday to discuss the budget

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Talks are intensifying on Capitol Hill as congressional negotiators attempt to reach an agreement over federal spending cuts in order to avoid a looming government shutdown.
Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer said on Wednesday "a glimmer of hope" existed following late-night talks.
But without a budget deal, parts of the US government will shut down on Friday.
The White House said President Barack Obama could hold a second meeting with lawmakers on Wednesday.
House Speaker John Boehner and Mr Obama met on Tuesday in an effort to craft a budget deal that could cut $33bn (£20bn) from this year's budget against last year's spending levels and ensure the government does not shut down when the most recent stop-gap measure expires at midnight on Friday.
In remarks after that meeting, Mr Obama said his administration and House Republicans were closer than they had ever been to coming to an agreement.
'Some progress made' The White House was said on Wednesday morning to be assessing any progress lawmakers made during late-night talks between Senate Democrats and House Republicans before holding a second meeting on Wednesday.

Government shutdowns

  • US government shut down 10 times during the Carter and Reagan administrations
  • Last shutdown was in 1995 under President Bill Clinton
  • Law passed in 1870 prohibits government from operating if a budget hasn't been passed
  • This is interpreted to exempt so-called essential services
  • These include: National security, air traffic control, some but not all medical services
  • But not: Processing of visas and passports, museums and monuments, answering work emails (by non-essential workers)
Mr Schumer, the Senate's number three Democrat, told US media on Wednesday morning that "some progress was made" in negotiations with House Republicans on Tuesday.
"We've met the other side more than half way" at $33bn (£20bn) in proposed cuts, he added.
Negotiations have stalled over legislation to fund the day-to-day operations of US federal agencies to the end of the fiscal year on 30 September.
Republicans, urged on by the anti-government Tea Party movement, are calling for far greater spending cuts than Democrats are willing to concede.
Meanwhile, Democrats have accused Republicans of linking social policy agendas to the bill, and say the size of the cuts Republicans demand would hinder the nascent US economic recovery.
Democrats also complained on Wednesday that Mr Boehner had moved the amount of spending he was seeking to cut from $33bn to $40bn. But Mr Boehner's office denied there had ever been an agreement on the first figure.
"Every time we agree to meet in the middle, they move where the middle is," said Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
"The speaker has a choice to make, and not much time to make it. He can either do what the Tea Party wants or what the country needs," he added.
Mr Obama is scheduled to head to the state of Pennsylvania for a town hall meeting on energy security on Wednesday at 1230 local time (1730GMT).
But a meeting with "Congressional leaders on the budget is still possible," White House spokesman Dan Pfeiffer said in a message on the micro-blogging website Twitter.
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