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To hear the Democrats tell it, House Republicans are being dragged by their extreme tea party allies to shut down the government, yet agreement is near on a sensible package of spending cuts to prevent it.
And according to Republicans, Democrats want a government shutdown and talks aren’t all that far along to avoid one.
Welcome to divided government, where each party lays claim to its own set of facts, federal agencies face a shutdown on April 9 without a compromise and any progress toward a deal is wrapped in partisan rhetoric.
“Now, here’s the bottom line. Democrats are rooting for a government shutdown,” House Speaker John Boehner said Thursday at a news conference.
Republicans are “listening to the people who sent us here to cut spending so we can grow our economy. As I said from the beginning, our goal is to cut spending, not shut down the government.”
Democrats have yet to outline a plan to cut spending, he added, “only rhetoric portraying the American people as extreme.”
A few hours later, Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., strode onto the Senate floor and said, “We are right at the doorstep of a deal.”
“As the vice president said last night, there has been agreement to meet in the middle, around $33 billion in cuts,” he said. The New York Democrat referred to Vice President Joe Biden‘s statement in the Capitol on Wednesday evening that the two sides were working on a deal containing that level of cuts.
Schumer, who has taken on an increasingly visible role within his party, noted that one prominent conservative columnist had predicted that Republicans would be blamed politically if there were a shutdown.
“It bothers me when I hear some on the other side of the aisle or in the tea party say we should shut down the government,” he said.
Despite the daily rhetorical barrage, the two sides have shown flexibility in recent days as the deadline draws closer.
At his news conference, Boehner said Republicans would fight for all the spending cuts they could. But he noted they could not “impose our will” on the Democrats and pointedly refrained from insisting on the full $61 billion contained in legislation the House passed more than a month ago.
Two days earlier, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Democrats were willing to consider limitations on government regulators as well as other non-spending items the House seeks. In exchange, Democrats expect Republicans to scale back on their demands for spending cuts.
Reid did not identify any, but other officials have said curbs on the Environmental Protection Agency and other government regulators were likely candidates. Another is a proposed ban on the use of government funds to pay for abortions for poor women living in the District of Columbia.
Additionally, Boehner has made a personal priority of a measure the House passed earlier this week to reinstate school vouchers for District of Columbia students. The program is the only one in the country that uses federal tax dollars to subsidize private-school tuition.
Copyright © 2011 The Associated Press