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Obama, House leader talk budget cuts

Obama, House leader talk budget cuts

President Barack Obama met the top Republican in Congress at the White House on Tuesday as both American political parties continue their brinksmanship over how much the government will be allowed to spend for the next six months. Failure to negotiate a deal would lead to a partial government shutdown at midnight Friday.
In the stormy conflict over government spending and the spiraling U.S. debt, Republicans opened a second front Tuesday by introducing a spending plan for next year that they say would slash the nation's deficit by $5 trillion in the coming 10 years.
The Republican plan brought forth by House Budget Committee Rep. Paul Ryan far exceeds the $1 trillion-plus in cuts outlined in Obama's February budget in line with recommendations from Obama's own bipartisan deficit commission in December. The Ryan plan blends unprecedented spending cuts with a fundamental restructuring of taxpayer-financed health care for the elderly and the poor.
Under the arcane congressional budget process, the Republican plan is not actual legislation but provides a nonbinding, theoretical framework for future action in Congress. With Democrats controlling the Senate, the Republican outline serves more to frame the debate heading into next year's election than represent a program with a chance of passing Congress and becoming law.
Despite cuts already deemed draconian by Democrats, Ryan's plan cannot claim a balanced budget by the end of the decade. Instead it lowers the deficit to the $400 billion range after six years because of promises to not increase taxes or change federal retirement benefits for people 55 and over.
The White House sit-down between Obama and the leader of the House, Speaker John Boehner, took place against a backdrop of Democratic accusations that Republicans are insisting on harmful spending cuts and attaching their own social policy agenda to the must-pass spending bill. Republicans counter that the White House is pressing budget gimmicks at a time that big cuts are needed to avoid dire financial consequences.
The negotiations were joined by Vice President Joe Biden and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
It remains unclear which side would absorb public blame and anger if there is no deal and government is force into a partial shutdown, but there was likely to be political damage and mainstream members of both parties say they want to avoid a shutdown.
With budget talks deadlocked, Boehner readied a weeklong bill to cut spending immediately by as much as $12 billion while averting a government shutdown threatened for Friday, officials disclosed Monday night. The stopgap measure would also provide enough money to operate the Pentagon through the end of September.
Republicans took control of the House in a landslide last November with much of their success built around tea party-aligned candidates elected on the promise of lower taxes, less spending and smaller government. Nearly six weeks ago, the House passed a bill calling for $61 billion in cuts in discretionary spending for the remainder of the year.
The Senate, which also must approve such a measure, never took it up.
Instead both houses of Congress have passed two short-term spending laws to keep government open while cutting $10 billion out of this year's budget. That appropriation runs out Friday.
A one-week measure that contains an additional $12 billion in cuts could reassure ultraconservative tea party-backed lawmakers who are among the most vocal in seeking to reduce the size and scope of the government. It could also put pressure on Democrats and the White House to offer greater spending cuts.
But there is no visible movement on an impasse over Republican policy "riders" attacking Obama's health care and financial reform laws, cutting Planned Parenthood off of taxpayer funds and reversing a host of Obama's environmental policies
Boehner said in a statement that the $33 billion in current-year spending cuts cited by Democrats "is not enough and many of the cuts that the White House and Senate Democrats are talking about are full of smoke and mirrors."
Obama has warned that without a deal the ensuing government shutdown would "jeopardize our economic recovery" just as jobs are finally being created.
Ryan's plan for the future features a controversial proposal to convert the traditional Medicare health plan for the aged into a system in which private insurance companies would operate plans approved and subsidized by the federal government.
Current Medicare beneficiaries or workers age 55 and older would stay in the existing system.
At the same time, Republicans propose to sharply cut projected spending on the Medicaid state-federal health program for the poor and disabled.
Spending on hundreds of domestic programs _ the accounts at the heart of the talks to avoid a government shutdown _ would be returned to levels at or below those in effect in 2008, producing savings of hundreds of billions of dollars.