With Government on Brink of Shutdown, ‘Narrow’ Differences Remain

BY David Chalian  April 7, 2011 at 8:32 AM EDT

Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, left, and House Speaker John Boehner speak to reporters outside the White House following a meeting with the president. Photo by Brendan Hoffman/Bloomberg via Getty Images.

The Morning Line

Congressional leaders have taken budget negotiations to the brink of a federal government shutdown, and Thursday is almost certainly the point of no return.

On Capitol Hill, all eyes will remain on House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., as the two veteran lawmakers attempt to break a stalemate on the long-term funding measure that has eluded them for months.

Speaker Boehner has an 11:30 a.m. EDT news conference Thursday where he’s sure to face a congressional press corps hungry for details about ongoing discussions. The Ohioan has remained tight-lipped on specifics, so it’ll be interesting to see if he sheds any light on how he, Sen. Reid and President Obama were able to “narrow” the differences in their meeting at the White House late Wednesday.

Rep. Boehner said again Wednesday night that there’s no agreement on a top-line number for spending reductions, but reports now indicate the two sides are aiming for $40 billion in cuts — $7 billion more than the Democratic compromise — and two-thirds of the way to the $61 billion conservative House Republicans have demanded.

President Obama, who summoned Rep. Boehner and Sen. Reid to the White House for a second consecutive day Wednesday, said in an unusual late night appearance in the briefing room that it would be “inexcusable” for lawmakers not to reach a deal given how relatively close the two sides are on the level of cuts.

The president has only one public event listed on his schedule Thursday: a press availability with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos at 4:20 p.m. EDT.

Depending on the amount of progress made on Capitol Hill early Thursday, it’s possible Boehner and Reid could find themselves back at the White House for yet another meeting. With poll after poll showing all sides stand to share equally in the blame for a shutdown, leaders from both sides are clearly feeling the pressure to avoid a shutdown.

If talks between the president, Rep. Boehner and Sen. Reid are the main attraction, the scene on the House floor Thursday will be more of a sideshow.

The House is set to debate a one-week spending bill introduced by Republicans that would cut $12 billion from current levels and fund Defense Department operations for the remainder of the fiscal year.

Some GOP lawmakers have referred to the proposal as a “troop funding” bill, but the measure also contains controversial policy provisions, such as a ban on federal and local government funding for abortions in the District of Columbia.

The temporary stopgap is as much (if not more) about politics as it is averting a government shutdown. President Obama and Senate Democrats have objected to the approach, so the bringing the bill to the floor Thursday is a symbolic gesture by Republicans to give the appearance they are doing everything they can to keep the government up and running.

It wouldn’t be the least bit surprising if developments overtake the action on the floor before lawmakers even get to a vote. Stay tuned.

GETTING PAID?

If there’s a shutdown, senators and representatives would still collect paychecks, while federal employees who are furloughed would not.

In an interview with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos that aired Thursday on “Good Morning America,” Speaker Boehner said he didn’t agree with that. “No, they shouldn’t be getting paid,” he said of lawmakers. “Just like federal employees shouldn’t be getting paid.”

Rep. Boehner joins a growing list of lawmakers who favor stripping themselves of a paycheck in the event of a shutdown.

The Hill’s Jordan Fabian reports: “Both chambers have passed separate pieces of legislation cutting off lawmaker pay in case of a shutdown, but a single bill has not advanced through both chambers and been signed by President Obama.”

MCCAIN THE PUNDIT

Having played the role of war hero, senator, maverick and failed presidential nominee, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., has added political pundit to his resume.

At a breakfast roundtable with reporters sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor, the last GOP standard bearer sized up the 2012 electoral landscape and offered some advice to the candidates who seek to fill his shoes.

Sen. McCain also made clear that no endorsement would be forthcoming.

“I intend, as is tradition of losers, to remain out of the primaries. I just think it would be inappropriate for me to endorse in the primary,” McCain said.

One other thing McCain made clear was that he still harbors some hard feelings about his 2008 defeat.

“I think the case against the president is primarily that he promised change and we really didn’t see change,” Sen. McCain said. “Maybe this time the electorate is interested in someone who has a proven record rather than rhetoric,” he later added.

The Arizonan offered some sage advice to the field of Republican presidential hopefuls beginning to jump into the 2012 race. He said it is critical for candidates to deal with their vulnerabilities and weaknesses early and definitively.

“I think you have to take the issue head on, whatever it is, and try to put it behind you,” he said.

“Obviously, there have been a couple of times where presidential candidates have had to give very major speeches. Bill Clinton is a great example of that and Barack Obama when the Reverend Wright issue came up.”

“I think you’ve got to confront it. You’ve got to confront it directly. And then when you ask the question again, the answer is ‘I already addressed that issue’ and not keep the story alive.”

Sen. McCain went on to apply that advice directly to his former rival Mitt Romney.

“It’s obvious that Gov. Romney — and I’m grateful for his help in my campaign, he’s a good friend – but obviously he’s going to have to confront the issue of the Massachusetts health care issue.”

As for his former running mate, McCain said he has not seen any indication that Sarah Palin plans to run for the presidency.

THE OBAMA WAR COUNCIL

Both the New York Times and the Washington Post report on the outgoing members of President Obama’s national security team, including first and foremost the upcoming summer departure of Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

The name floating to the top of the replacement list for Gates: CIA Director and former Clinton chief of staff Leon Panetta.

Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen is set to depart soon, as well, and Gen. David Petraeus is not expected to stay at the helm in Afghanistan for much longer.

As the president attempts to bring the Iraq War to a close, unwind the surge in Afghanistan and successfully complete what he started in Libya, the new national security team he puts in place will be widely scrutinized for clues about his foreign policy priorities going forward.

For more political coverage, visit our politics page.

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