White House Meeting Fails To Bring Budget Agreement - Spokane, North Idaho News & Weather KHQ.com

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UPDATE: Republican leaders have called the party's House rank and file to a highly unusual late night meeting in the Capitol to discuss budget negotiations with President Barack Obama and Senate Democrats.

The meeting comes about three two hours before a midnight deadline to avoid the first government shutdown in 15 years.

Texas Rep. Jeb Hensarling says that at this point there is no deal. But negotiators have been exchanging offers all day.

UPDATE: The nation's largest federal employee union says forcing some federal employees to work without pay during a government shutdown violates the U.S. Constitution.

The American Federation of Government Employees has filed a lawsuit seeking an injunction to prevent the Obama administration from requiring essential employees to keep working if a shutdown occurs.

The lawsuit says requiring work without pay violates language in the Constitution that prohibits the government from committing to spend money that has not yet been approved by Congress.

It also claims forcing employees to work without pay violates the prohibition on involuntary servitude. It says there's no guarantee Congress will pay those employees once a shutdown ends. Congress and the White House face a deadline of midnight Friday to agree on funding to keep the government open.


Washington (CNN) -- Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, said Friday morning that the abortion issue is the lone remaining stumbling block for negotiators trying to reach a budget agreement that would prevent a government shutdown.

"This all deals with women's health. Everything (else) has been resolved. Everything," Reid said. "It's an ideological battle. It has nothing to do with fiscal integrity in this country."

Republicans have been pushing to strip federal funding from Planned Parenthood during the budget talks.

But a spokesman for Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, immediately disputed Reid's assertion.

"While nothing will be decided until everything is decided, the largest issue is still spending cuts," Michael Steel said. "The American people want to cut spending to help the private sector create jobs -- and the Democrats that run Washington don't."

If Congress and the White House fail to reach an agreement by midnight Friday, when the current spending authorization measure expires, parts of the government will close down.

That means 800,000 government workers will be furloughed and a range of government services will halt, though essential services such as law enforcement will continue to function.

Pressure ratcheted up on Democratic and Republican negotiators late Thursday night after a fourth White House meeting in two days between President Barack Obama and congressional leaders failed to result in an agreement.

It was the second straight night that talks involving Obama, Boehner, and Reid led to their aides being charged with trying to work out remaining differences in the ensuing hours.

Obama's meeting with the two men lasted about 50 to 55 minutes, with one top White House aide describing the tone as "serious, focused and candid."

In recent White House budget negotiations, Obama and Vice President Joe Biden would at times dismiss advisers and aides to have direct talks with the two Congressional leaders, but Thursday night was different according to a senior administration official.

"I'm not prepared to express wild optimism," Obama said. "I think we are further along today than we were yesterday."

Obama added that he told Reid and Boehner he wanted an answer Friday morning on whether a deal would get reached, and the White House announced that Obama's planned trip Friday to Indiana to promote clean energy had been called off.

The president noted the mechanism of shutting down government operations have started in case a deal proves elusive, which he said would hurt federal workers, people who rely on government services and the nation's economic recovery.

"For us to go backwards because Washington couldn't get its act together is unacceptable," Obama said.

In an interview with CNN before the evening meeting, Reid put the chances of a government shutdown at 50-50 and said Democrats had agreed to all the spending cuts demanded by conservative Republicans that they could.

"Enough is enough," he said.

Meanwhile, the GOP-controlled House of Representatives passed a short-term government spending bill that would delay the impending shutdown by one additional week.

The measure, which passed 247-181 in a largely party-line vote, would fund the Pentagon for the remainder of the current fiscal year. It also would slash federal spending by another $12 billion and included so-called "policy riders" that stipulate political and ideological restrictions, such as no government funding for Planned Parenthood.

However, Reid declared the short-term extension a "nonstarter," and the White House promised a veto if it reached Obama's desk.

Top legislators on both sides of the aisle have seemed increasingly resigned to the prospect of a shutdown. Congressional staffers began receiving their furlough notices Thursday afternoon. Employees deemed "essential" during a shutdown would still be able to work; those considered "nonessential" would not.

Congressmen, however, would continue to be paid in the event of a shutdown.

In addition to trying to strip funding for Planned Parenthood, top Republicans have also been trying to prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gas emissions, he said.

In a statement Thursday, Planned Parenthood noted that "by law, no federal funding for Planned Parenthood goes toward abortion."

Cutting its funding would harm programs that provide contraception, cancer screenings and help deal with sexually transmitted infections, the group said.

"A small group with an extreme political agenda is forcing a shutdown of the United States government over a dangerous proposal that would bar women from getting the lifesaving health care they need," Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards said.

Boehner declared there was "no agreement on numbers and no agreement on the underlying policies," and he chided Senate Democrats for rejecting the one-week extension passed by the House.

Earlier this year, the House passed a bill that included $61 billion in cuts from current spending levels, but the measure was rejected by the Democratic-controlled Senate. Two previous extensions of the government spending resolution have included $10 billion in cuts.

A Democratic source told CNN on Thursday morning that there had been a tentative agreement to cut $34.5 billion in spending for the rest of the fiscal year, which ends September 30.

Republican sources, however, said that was incorrect and insisted that no agreement had been reached on a number.

The budget brinkmanship showed the political stakes of the situation, with both parties trying to depict the other as unwilling to do what's right for the country.

Republicans, under pressure from the conservative Tea Party movement to reduce the size of government, blame Democrats for failing to pass a fiscal year 2011 budget last year when they controlled both congressional chambers. They also say Obama and his party are ignoring the peril of rising federal deficits and national debt.

Democrats contend the $61 billion in spending cuts in the House bill would harm the nation's economic recovery and slash education and innovation programs essential for continued growth.

Obama and Reid insist that Democrats have agreed to more than 50% of the spending cuts sought by Republicans, which they said should be sufficient for a compromise on a measure that has little overall effect on the deficit and debt issues.

One of biggest obstacles to a deal involves whether reductions in mandatory spending programs, known in appropriations parlance as "changes in mandatory spending" or CHIMPS, should be part of spending cuts.

Examples of mandatory spending programs include Pell Grants, the Children's Health Insurance Program and some types of highway funding. Such programs are funded for multiple years at a time, with the spending set for the time period covered, exempt from congressional authorization each year.

Democratic sources have said they want about half the overall cuts in this spending bill to come from mandatory spending programs, and they have proposed the necessary reductions in programs at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Justice

Department and the Treasury Department, and in Pell Grants.

Republicans note that reducing the spending in a mandatory program for one year doesn't prevent the amount from returning to its original level the following year.