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Top Democrats, Republicans Continue Talks as Shutdown Deadline Nears

April 5, 2011 at 6:43 PM EST
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JEFFREY BROWN: There were two budget battles brewing in Washington today. One focused on the House Republican plan to tackle long-term deficits and debt. The other involved the immediate threat of a government shutdown — the result, continued stalemate and more political jockeying.

With a potential government shutdown just three days away, President Obama summoned a bipartisan group of congressional leaders to the White House today to urge them to strike a deal.

The president later paid a visit to the White House Briefing Room and said Democrats had come more than halfway, so now it was time for Republicans to give.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: We can’t have a “my way or the highway” approach to this problem, because if we start applying that approach, where I have got to get 110 percent of everything I want or else I’m going to shut down the government, we’re not going to get anything done this year. And the American people are going to be the ones that suffer.

JEFFREY BROWN: Immediately after that, House Speaker John Boehner held a news conference on Capitol Hill to blame Democrats.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER, R-Ohio, speaker of the House: We’re not going to allow the Senate, nor the White House, to put us in a box where we have to make a choice between two bad options: cutting a bad deal this week in order to keep the government open or allow the government to shut down due to Senate inaction.

JEFFREY BROWN: For his part, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid accused Boehner of backing away from an agreement with $33 billion in cuts under pressure from conservative House Republicans.

SEN. HARRY REID, D-Nev., majority leader: I think that the — the Tea Party is driving what goes on in the House of Representatives. And we cannot do what they want done. We have been willing to do what is fair in ratcheting down very, very hard on programs dealing with domestic discretionary spending. We can’t go anymore.

JEFFREY BROWN: Reid and Boehner met again this afternoon to continue working on a deal to keep the federal government running past Friday, when the current funding measure expires.

In the meantime, even amid stalemate over this year’s budget, the even more contentious battle over long-term spending, including entitlement programs, was thrust into the spotlight again today, as House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan released the GOP alternative to the president’s 2012 blueprint unveiled in February.

Ryan’s plan, called “The Path to Prosperity,” proposes $5.8 trillion in savings over the next decade, compared to $1.1 trillion under the president’s plan. Some $700 billion of the savings would come from transforming Medicaid into a block grant program that gives governors less money but more flexibility to provide care for the poor and disabled.

Ryan’s plan projects another $1.4 trillion in savings would be achieved by repealing the health care overhaul enacted last year. But that contrasts with the analysis of the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, which holds that repealing the law would add more than $200 billion to the deficit.

Ryan also seeks to reform Medicare by providing payments for private health plans instead of reimbursing doctors and hospitals directly. Current Medicare beneficiaries and workers 55 and older could stay in the existing system.

Ryan said his proposal deals with big issues the president had largely ignored.

REP. PAUL RYAN, R-Wis., Budget Committee Chairman: We’re here to try and fix this country’s problems. And that mean — if that means we have to go first and offer solutions, fine. If that means we’re giving our political adversaries a political weapon to use against us, which by the way, they will have to distort, demagogue and lie to use it, shame on them. We owe it to the country to give them an honest debate.

JEFFREY BROWN: Democrats were quick to criticize Ryan’s proposal. They argued it cuts in all the wrong places.

The top Democrat on the House Budget Committee, Chris Van Hollen of Maryland:

REP. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN, D-Md.: To govern is to choose. And we believe that their plan will weaken America in the long run. It is not courageous to protect the most powerful interests and the very wealthy, at the expense of critical investments in our country. And yet, that is what they do going forward.

JEFFREY BROWN: This debate, in its detail and scope, is likely to define the political battle lines for months to come.