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No Agreement in Congress on US Budget, Talks Continue

House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, to discuss GOP efforts to create jobs and cut spending, April 1, 2011
House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, to discuss GOP efforts to create jobs and cut spending, April 1, 2011
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Cindy Saine

Negotiations are continuing on Capitol Hill to try to reach an agreement on spending levels for the 2011 federal government budget.  House of Representatives Speaker, Republican John Boehner says he did not reach an agreement on the budget with President Barack Obama in talks at the White House Tuesday.  Later talks between Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid were described as "productive," but with no indication of a breakthrough.  A temporary resolution to fund the U.S. government expires at the end of the week.  If no spending bill is agreed to by Congress, there will be a partial government shutdown that will affect services for millions of Americans. 

Lawmakers have debated this year's government-spending levels for months, with Republicans demanding major cuts in domestic discretionary programs championed by Democrats, including some social programs for the poor and aged, and cuts in grants to college students from low-income families.

President Obama said Tuesday that Democrats have already met Republican demands for spending cuts, and that Republican lawmakers should not let ideology get in the way of preventing a partial government shutdown that could jeopardize the nation's economic recovery.

Mr. Obama called on Speaker Boehner and Senate Majority Leader, Democrat Harry Reid  to get the 2011 budget issue resolved, saying that if not, he would ask them to come to the White House on Wednesday.

"It would be inexcusable for us to not be able to take care of last year’s business - keep in mind we’re dealing with a budget that could have gotten done three months ago, could have gotten done two months ago, could have gotten done last month - when we are this close simply because of politics," said President Obama.

Boehner said that the talks are continuing, but he denied that any agreement had been reached on cutting $33 billion from the budget.

"We have made clear that we are fighting for the largest spending cuts possible," said Speaker Boehner. "We are talking about real spending cuts here, no smoke and mirrors [no attempt to disguise the issue].  We have also made clear that there was never an agreement at $33 billion, that we are going to continue to fight for again the largest cuts possible."

The Republican-controlled House has passed a budget with $60 billion in spending cuts, but it failed to pass in the Democrat-controlled Senate.  Several fiscal conservative Tea Party Republicans are rejecting any compromise on spending cuts, putting House Speaker Boehner in a difficult position.

The president, Boehner and two other congressional leaders reportedly discussed domestic spending cuts in the range of $30 billion - close to the amount Boehner had originally requested.

A partial government shutdown would mean that millions of federal employees deemed nonessential would not report to work until the budget showdown is resolved.  National security would not be affected, but services such as visa and passport services would likely be suspended.

Most Democratic lawmakers and many advocates for working families say Republicans want to reduce the national debt on the backs of the poorest and most disadvantaged Americans, including children and the elderly.

One of them is Children's Defense Fund President Marian Wright Edelman:

"They are taking food out of the mouths of weak babies and weak mothers," said Edelman. "I mean what kind of country that is the richest in the world would take food literally out of the mouths of babies while giving tax cuts to billionaires and millionaires."

Republicans say government spending is out of control, and point out that Democrats failed to pass a budget last year when they still had majority control of the House of Representatives.  Lawmakers have spent so much time debating the current year's budget, that it is now colliding with efforts to begin discussions on the 2012 budget.

On Tuesday, Republican Paul Ryan, chairman of the House Committee on the Budget, introduced his party's 2012 budget proposal, which includes more cuts in government spending and an overhaul of popular government healthcare programs for the poor and elderly, Medicaid and Medicare.

Ryan says he believes that reducing the national debt is a moral imperative.

"For starters, we propose to cut $6.2 trillion in spending over the next 10 years from the president's budget," said Ryan. "We reduce the debt as a percent of the economy, we put the nation on the path to actually pay off our national debt.  Our goal here is to leave our children and our grandchildren with a debt-free nation."

Senate Democrats are likely to reject Ryan's proposal, but experts say it will help frame the long-term debate on tackling the biggest parts of the federal budget - Medicare, Medicaid, social security and defense spending.  

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