WASHINGTON - A breakdown this week in closed-door negotiations between congressional leaders and the White House on funding the federal government has spilled into the open, with aides from both parties now saying it's possible Congress may not agree on a long-term funding resolution or another temporary measure by an April 8 deadline.
That means that the threat of a government shutdown – which had receded in recent weeks because of Congress’s approval of several stopgap funding measures – appears to be back on the table.
In a statement Friday night, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said that if the government shuts down, the blame would be squarely on Democrats’ shoulders.
“If Democrats don’t have a plan, do they intend to shut down the government because they can’t agree among themselves?” Boehner asked. “The status quo is unacceptable, and right now that is all Washington Democrats are offering.”
Asked for comment on the negotiations Friday, the White House budget office declined to discuss the details of the meetings.
Budget office spokesman Kenneth Baer added, however, that there have been “ongoing discussions at many levels” and noted that, “the process is on track.”
Friday’s public sniping, which was conducted in a stream of emailed statements between Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and the top three House Republican leaders, followed a Tuesday meeting among staff members for Boehner and Reid and representatives of the White House budget office on a possible deal for funding the government through the end of the fiscal year in September.
Democratic aides said talks had been under way for nearly two weeks between Boehner’s staff and the White House budget office, with steady progress leading to an agreement that the two sides would meet halfway between the $61 billion in cuts approved by the House and Democrats’ preference for maintaining current spending levels.
Since $10 billion in cuts had already been approved in two temporary funding resolutions, that position would require Democrats to come up with only an additional $20 billion to $25 billion.
But on Tuesday, according to Democrats, House Republicans changed the terms, insisting that negotiations start with the House-passed bill and that Democrats identify the cuts they couldn’t accept, which led to White House budget director Jacob Lew walking out, Democratic aides said.