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Obama Meets with Congressional Leaders on Budget

US President Barack Obama
US President Barack Obama

U.S. President Barack Obama and top Republican and Democratic congressional leaders met Tuesday to try to reach a budget agreement to avert a government shutdown at the end of the week.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said that Mr. Obama "strongly believes" a compromise on a 2011 spending plan is "within reach." Congressional Democrats and Republicans have been sparring for months over what cuts to make in the budget to fund the U.S. government through the end of the current fiscal year in September.

Obama says an agreement is needed to avoid jeopardizing the country's economic recovery.  
Republicans say they are trying to end the threat of a shutdown, but say that sharp spending cuts must be enacted to help cut the government's deficit.

The U.S. government has been funded with a series of six stopgap funding plans since the start of the current fiscal year in October.  Obama called the White House meeting in an effort to resolve the impasse.

Government agencies would run out of funding after Friday if there is no compromise on a budget plan. If that happens, numerous government services deemed non-essential would be halted until a plan is adopted.

The White House and the congressional leaders have been trying to cut at least $33 billion from the $1 trillion-plus discretionary portion of the federal government's budget.

But Tea Party supporters among the Republican majority in the House of Representatives have been seeking broader cuts of at least $61 billion. It is part of their effort to cut the size of the federal government, one of their campaign platforms when they were elected last November.

Congressional Democrats have sought to cut spending for various programs that had been mandatory and counting unspent money as part of the savings. But Republicans have been seeking to trim spending for various discretionary domestic programs.

The top lawmaker in the House of Representatives, Republican John Boehner, says the savings proposed by the Democrats would be illusory. He said that even more than the $33 billion target should be cut.

Boehner, Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and other congressional leaders were at the White House meeting Tuesday.

If the White House and congressional leaders do not reach an immediate agreement - but seem on the path to a compromise - they could adopt a seventh short-term budget plan to fund the government. But many lawmakers and the White House have said they are opposed to that idea.

While the White House and lawmakers continue to debate the 2011 spending plan, congressional Republicans also unveiled longer-term cuts that would slash $6.2 trillion in spending over the next decade. One part of that plan would restructure and cut taxpayer spending on health care for the poor and elderly, which accounts for about one-fourth of federal spending.

The Republican chairman of the House Budget Committee, Paul Ryan, called the plan a "path to prosperity" that would lead to "a debt-free government." He said the government has a "moral imperative" to sharply trim its spending to not burden future generations of taxpayers. The plan is likely to encounter stiff opposition from Democratic lawmakers.

Some information for this report was provided by AP and AFP.

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