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Budget Negotiations Down to the Wire

The Morning Line

Two days.

That’s all congressional leaders have to agree on billions in cuts to a trillion-plus dollar budget in order to avert a government shutdown at midnight Friday.

While significant sticking points remain — including the amount of cuts and what Republican policy provisions, if any, will make it into the bill — it appeared that Tuesday’s series of meeting had moved the debate forward.

The Senate’s third ranking Democrat, New York’s Chuck Schumer, said Wednesday there was “a glimmer of hope” in the budget negotiations.

Following their second face-to-face encounter of the day Tuesday, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., both released statements describing their discussion as “productive” and agreeing to further talks.

That came just hours after Rep. Boehner accused Democrats of trying to force him into “a box” by choosing between two bad options — a bill with too little cuts or shutting the government down. Sen. Reid, meanwhile, blamed Boehner for allowing conservative House Republicans to wield too much sway over negotiations.

Carl Hulse and Jennifer Steinhauer of the New York Times report: “The dueling statements followed a White House meeting that produced no compromise after Mr. Boehner upped the ante in the spending fight, suggesting that $40 billion in cuts could be palatable to House Republicans, an amount $7 billion larger than the target number that Democratic lawmakers and the White House had believed was the goal of the negotiations.”

Having passed two short-term spending stopgaps in recent weeks, the pressure is on lawmakers to come up with a plan that will keep the government running until Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year.

President Obama rejected the idea of another temporary funding measure following his 80-minute, closed-door Oval Office meeting with Speaker Boehner, Sen. Reid and the House and Senate appropriation chairs.

“I have been very clear that the last time we had an extension, it was to give the parties time to go ahead and get something done. We are now at the point where there is no excuse to extend this further,” President Obama said.

The president also made little effort to hide his frustration with the failure of members of Congress to reach a deal.

“If they can’t sort it out, then I want them back here tomorrow. But it would be inexcusable for us to not be able to take care of last year’s business,” he said.

An administration official indicated Wednesday that lawmakers could return to the White House for another meeting prior to the president’s 12:15 p.m. ET departure for Philadelphia.

The Washington Post’s Paul Kane and Perry Bacon have details on two of the key stumbling blocks that remain:

“One is a demand by Democrats to include roughly $10 billion in one-time cuts from programs such as Pell grants and farm subsidies. Republicans have rejected those cuts because they wouldn’t be permanent.

“Another impediment to a deal is Boehner’s insistence on attaching what are known as policy riders to the legislation. One such provision, approved as an amendment to the House bill in February, would keep open a mountain repository outside Las Vegas for storage of high-level nuclear waste — a plan Reid absolutely opposes for his state.”

The Post’s Ed O’Keefe, meanwhile, reports that preparations are already underway in the event a shutdown occurs.

Federal workers received guidance late Tuesday that they “may not voluntarily work during a shutdown and that all essential and nonessential personnel would be paid only if Congress approved such funding after a shutdown ended,” O’Keefe writes.

More from O’Keefe: “A shutdown’s impact would be felt most immediately just down the street from Congress, at the Smithsonian museums on the Mall. With spring break and school trips to Washington underway, the museums are expecting 3 million visitors this month, according to Smithsonian spokeswoman Linda St. Thomas.”

That means congressional reporters won’t be the only ones closely tracking developments on the budget negotiations.

NEW PARTY CHIEF

One day after launching his re-election campaign, President Obama tapped Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., to take the helm of his party as head of the Democratic National Committee.

Wasserman Schultz is the first woman to serve as permanent national chair of the party.

The congresswoman was a high-profile surrogate for Hillary Clinton during her lengthy battle against Obama for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008, but immediately threw her support to Mr. Obama when Clinton ended her candidacy.

Former Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine resigned as DNC chairman after declaring his candidacy for the Senate to fill the seat being vacated by retiring Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va.

“It is a source of pride to all of Debbie’s colleagues in the House Democratic Caucus that President Obama has recognized her considerable talents by naming her chair of the Democratic National Committee,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said in a statement. “She’s a dynamic leader, a champion fundraiser, and an effective messenger on behalf of Democrats from coast-to-coast.”

Vice President Joe Biden announced the president’s pick in a letter to DNC members who will have to formally ratify Wasserman Schultz as the new chairman.

ON THE ROAD TO A RECOUNT?

Tuesday’s election for a state Supreme Court justice was supposed to provide a referendum on the performance of Gov. Scott Walker, R-Wis., during his battle with state senate Democrats and labor unions.

Instead, the vote count was too close to declare a winner and no clear, larger message about Gov. Walker will likely be derived from this proxy election.

From the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

“Justice David Prosser clung to a narrow lead over Assistant Attorney General JoAnne Kloppenburg in the state Supreme Court race early Wednesday, after a hard-fought campaign dominated by political forces and outside interest groups.

“But even with 99% of the vote counted, fewer than 600 votes – about 0.04% of ballots – separated the candidates. And The Associated Press said early Wednesday that the race was too close to call and that it would take hours or most of the day to get a final tally.”

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