Cause for Optimism After Late-Night Meeting

President Obama, John Boehner, and Harry Reid failed to reach a deal, but a government shutdown may yet be avoided
Boehner Reid after meeting - Jonathan Ernst : Reuters - banner.jpg

House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, after meeting with President Obama at the White House Wednesday night. credit: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

At least now the grown ups are in the same room and talking.

Congressional leaders again failed to reach a final compromise with the Obama administration on a long-term funding plan for the federal government despite a lengthy late-Wednesday huddle at the White House.

The president has staked considerable political capital on the outcome of the talks, taking ownership of the negotiations by insisting that he will keep inviting the principals, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., to the White House to make sure that an agreement is reached.

However, President Obama suggested after the meeting that the areas of disagreement have been "clarified" and "narrowed," and that staffers were expected to work through the night in hopes of reaching a final deal as early as Thursday morning. "I remain confident that if we're serious about getting something done we should be able to reach a deal, get it passed, and avert a shutdown," Obama told reporters.

The federal government is on track to shut down Friday at midnight unless an agreement on either a short- or long-term plan can be reached before then.

In a separate news conference Wednesday evening at the White House, Reid and Boehner echoed Obama's assertion that progress was being made. The two leaders are expected to meet again Thursday morning for a pulse-check on the negotiations. The speaker stressed that there is still no agreement on a final number for spending cuts, or on a number of controversial policies attached to the CR. "I have confidence we can get this done," Reid said.

With a long-term deal remaining out of reach, House Republicans moved forward with plans for a third short-term continuing resolution that would fund the government for one week while extracting $12 billion in cuts and fully funding the Pentagon for the remainder of the fiscal year.

However, Democrats have rejected this proposal as unserious. On the Senate floor Wednesday evening, Reid said Republicans were unwilling to compromise in order to appease their right flank. "We've been more than reasonable and more than fair. We meet them halfway, and they say no. We meet them more than halfway, and they still say no," Reid said.

Despite the verbal darts launched from both ends of the Capitol, there are signs that progress is being made. Boehner said as much on Thursday but noted that even if a deal is reached soon, it would still take several days to pull it together, which means another short-term CR will be necessary no matter what unfolds over the next two days.

A Democratic aide briefed on talks said the sides are "very, very close on numbers," and will likely be able to agree on a target number, under which specific program cuts will be negotiated. Democrats said that figure will not be more than $35 billion, marking a small concession by Democrats who previously tried to set the bar at $33 billion in cuts from current spending levels.

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Susan Davis is a correspondent (Congress) for National Journal.

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