Congress still billions apart on budget deal

Congressional negotiators on Wednesday raced against a looming deadline to agree on billions of dollars in spending cuts and find a budget deal that keeps the federal government operating beyond Friday.

With time running short, Republican and Democratic negotiators struggled to find a compromise that would avert a federal government shutdown that could throw hundreds of thousands of employees out of work.

Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid said the budget talks were “constantly evolving” and accused Republicans of changing the terms of the debate ahead of the midnight Friday deadline.

“Every time we agree to meet in the middle they move where the middle is,” Reid said as the Senate opened on Wednesday. “We stand here with fewer than 72 hours on the clock … It’s time to get the job done.”

Negotiators had tentatively agreed on a figure of $33 billion earlier this week, but House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner, a Republican, is now pushing for a target of $40 billion.

The two sides also must resolve what programs would go under the knife to satisfy Republican demands for sharp spending cuts in the current fiscal year.

Separate negotiating sessions at the White House and the Capitol on Tuesday failed to produce an agreement between Boehner and Democrats, and they blamed each other for the impasse.

The White House said President Barack Obama could meet with lawmakers again on Wednesday. But aides for Boehner and Reid said there was no meeting with Obama scheduled yet.

The budget showdown is the biggest political test for both parties since Republicans swept to power in the House and made big Senate gains in last year’s elections on promises to slash government spending and reduce the federal government.

Obama vowed to keep negotiators at work until they agree on a budget for the remainder of the fiscal year, which ends on September 30. Temporary funding expires at midnight on Friday.

“The only question is whether politics or ideology are going to get in the way of preventing a government shutdown,” he told reporters after Tuesday’s White House meeting failed to find common ground.

By Andy Sullivan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – (Additional reporting by Matt Spetalnick, Caren Bohan, Donna Smith and David Morgan; Writing by John Whitesides; editing by Vicki Allen)


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