No deal has been reached on a budget extension, but it appears there's a working target on the size of budget cuts, as lawmakers continue to negotiate on what the specific cuts will be made and what non-budget related "riders" will be included in a bill to put up for a vote.
House and Senate leaders are publicly emphasizing different aspects of closed-door negotiations on a budget extension for the remainder of the fiscal year, with one side saying there's no agreement and the other speaking about the target.
"There's no agreement on numbers, and nothing will be agreed to until everything is agreed to," House Speaker John Boehner said on Thursday.
Congress has until April 8 to reach a deal to avoid a shutdown of some services in the federal government.
Top Democrats said lawmakers were working with a $73 billion target for cuts. The figure is based on a proposal made in 2010 for the fiscal year 2011 by President Barack Obama.
Disagreement and Extensions
Lawmakers have not been able to agree on the long-term budget after the President's proposal last year. They have issued six temporary extensions since then.
The latest extension gave lawmakers 3 weeks to reach an agreement. Now lawmakers want to reach a six-month agreement that will end on September 30.
The $73 billion deal is only a reduction of $33 billion from current spending from 2009 levels. The Republican-led House passed H.R. 1 in January, a bill that would spend $100 billion less than Obama's fiscal 2011 proposal. The Senate rejected those cuts as being too high, setting the stage for the current round of negotiations.
A cut proposal as high as $500 billion came from newly elected Sen. Rand Paul early in the process.
In the meantime Obama has already proposed a 2012 budget, which is awaiting consideration by Congress.
Rhetoric from Boehner, Reid
"It's now been 40 days since the House passed H.R. 1, which keeps the government open and cuts spending for the rest of this fiscal year. Forty days, and Senate Democrats still have not passed a bill or come up with a credible plan to reduce spending," Boehner said Thursday.
He said that while Republicans "control one-half of one-third" of the government, they would "continue to fight for the largest spending cuts that we can get."
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on Thursday concurred with a Wednesday statement by Vice President Joe Biden that teams of negotiators were aiming toward the $73 billion figure and "good progress" was being made toward a deal.
"Now we have to figure out how to get there," Reid said.
The cuts needed to be based on "principles and priorities" and that "[w]hat we cut is much more important than how much we cut," he said.
Reid said he appreciated Boehner's participation in the talks but had strong words for the conservative Tea Party.
"I'm sure it's not easy trying to negotiate with the Tea Party screaming in his right ear," Reid said.
To contact the editor, e-mail: