Budget Progress Stopped, Despite Talk of Compromise

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President Barack Obama, Senator Harry Reid and Speaker of the House John Boehner were all optimism and compromise as they walked out of an emergency budget conference last night, but they still didn't make a deal.

The deadline for Congress to pass a federal budget before money stops flowing and the government shuts down is tomorrow. While Democrats and Republicans have come to within $10 billion of each other (that's of a nearly $4 trillion total budget), neither side wants to be the one that gives in. As the New York Times points out, this is a big deal, personally, for both Obama and Boehner, both of whom face challenges inside their parties.

The outcome will help determine whether Mr. Boehner is leading his party or following the demands of the Tea Party movement. For Mr. Obama, it is the biggest test yet of whether he can reposition himself as a pragmatic leader who can recapture the political center and keep liberals sufficiently energized to help him win re-election.

But the standoff is making neither look good, as many have pointed out. Jon Stewart on Tuesday vocalized what a lot of people think about the wearisome conflict: "So Democrats want $30 billion in cuts and republicans want $60 billion. Hmm, what can we do? Well, rather than both sides going, 'how about 45?' we're going to shut the government down."

By Wednesday night the gap between how much each side wants to cut had shrunk to $7 billion ($33 billion for the Democrats and $40 billion for the republicans), according to the Times. So will we see a compromise today?

Politico says yes, on the grounds that while neither Boehner, Obama nor Reed wants to budge on the budget, being seen as the guy who forced the shut down would be even more damaging, politically. "They can’t be absolutely, positively certain the other guy will get the blame if it happens. And that simple political fact might be the one thing left that can head off a prolonged shutdown."

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Slate says yes, but barely, pointing out that it does no side any good to budge too early.

There's no point in compromising before the very last second. President Obama has to promise not to sign a one-week funding measure, because he can't look like he's caving—liberals had their fill of that when he signed the tax cut deal last December. House Speaker John Boehner has to repeat, again and again, and again, that he's trying to get the "biggest cuts" he can, and will accept no deal that lacks the support of 218 Republicans.

Michele Bachman says yes, but only if Democrats give ground.

"I firmly believe that by Friday this deal will be made and that there won't be a shutdown," she said during an interview on MSNBC. "I actually do think we will reach an agreement and move on [to 2012]."

But the potential 2012 GOP presidential candidate also said she "can't vote for the current compromise we're looking at."

Nobody wants to be the one to say that the two sides won't make a deal, but even if the shutdown doesn't happen, some damage has been done. Robert Gates broke the news to troops in Iraq that they may not get paid for a while, which is not the kind of thing that makes people want to lay down their lives for you.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.