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US Budget Dispute Continues

U.S. lawmakers tossed around potential budget cut figures Thursday, but failed to compromise.  Meanwhile, across the street from the Capitol building in Washington, conservative Tea Party activists firmly stood in support of a budget passed by the Republican-led House of Representatives last month that reduces spending by $61 billion.

Congress has one week to decide on a federal budget for fiscal year 2011 or the U.S. government could shut down.  Republican House Speaker John Boehner Thursday denied Vice President Joe Biden’s earlier assertion that a tentative agreement has been reached.

"You have heard a lot of talk over the last 24 hours, there is no agreement on numbers and nothing will be agreed to until everything is agreed to," he said.

But Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid stood firm against budget cuts supported by Tea Party activists, who advocate steep limits on the size and spending of the central government.  

"We will continue talking and continue working to find a middle ground. But it will not come on the backs of middle class families and the jobs they need. And it will not come if the other side continues to insist on unreasonable, Tea Party, unrealistic cuts," Reid said.

Lawmakers are working on figuring out the details of a proposed $33 billion reduction, but Republicans are pushing for the largest possible cuts after making big gains in Congress in the 2010 election, on a campaign promise of slashing spending by $100 billion.

Tea Party supporters gathered Thursday on a cold, drizzly day near the Capitol to remind lawmakers of their promises to make big cuts in spending.

Political activist JoAnn Abbott said those voted into Congress who support the Tea Party values of lesser government, more fiscal responsibility and constitutional principles need to stick to their word.

"Yeah, I am questioning the people who promised to do things when they got here who have started to forget what they promised. But I haven’t forgotten what they promised," Abbott said.

With Tea Party supporters demanding there be no compromise, Boehner said his party only has limited power to make cuts.  

"We control one half of one-third of the government here, but we are going to continue to fight for the largest spending cuts that we can get, to keep the government open and funded through the valence of this fiscal year," Boehner said.

But Tea Party supporter Lynn Olivier thinks Boehner is not doing enough. "Basically I feel very strongly that John Boehner needs to man up and stand up for the people of America. Stop the spending. Stand up to Harry Reid. And be a man and stop crying," Oliver said.

Rep. Jim Pence and Rep. Michelle Bachmann, both Tea Party favorites, rallied the small crowd.  Bachmann told Tea Partyers to keep pressuring Republicans not to back down.  

A CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey released Wednesday showed waning support for the group, with nearly half of responders saying they have an unfavorable view of the Tea Partyers -- the same view Americans have of both Republicans and Democrats.

Pence helped the morale of the activists by saying he will stand firm in his support for major cuts, even if it results in a government shutdown.

"If they want to play political games, and have a shutdown, as I said, then have at it," Pence said.

Congress has until April 8 to compromise on a fiscal year 2011 budget, which ends September 30.  The U.S. government is being funded by short-term spending bills, until a new spending measure is passed.

The U.S. government was last shut down in late 1995 and early 1996 amid a budget stalemate between Republican congressional leaders and then-President Bill Clinton.

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