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President Barack Obama has summoned the top Republican in Congress to the White House on Tuesday for talks aimed at averting a government shutdown this weekend.
Negotiations have stalled on legislation blending immediate spending cuts with the money required to run federal agencies through the end of September. Democrats are accusing the GOP of pressing harmful spending cuts and attaching a social policy agenda to the must-pass spending bill. House Speaker John Boehner counters that the White House is pressing gimmicky budget cuts.
On a separate long-term track, Republicans controlling the House have fashioned plans to slash the budget deficit by more than $5 trillion over the upcoming decade, combining unprecedented spending cuts with a fundamental restructuring of taxpayer-financed health care for the elderly and the poor.
House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., will unveil the GOP budget blueprint Tuesday morning just as Boehner, R-Ohio, heads to the White House for a meeting on the current-year measure with Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, his chief nemesis in Congress.
Boehner has ordered up a weeklong stopgap bill to prevent a shutdown. That proposal includes $12 billion in immediate spending cuts and enough money to operate the Pentagon through the end of September.
However, Republicans on Monday disclosed plans to instruct lawmakers “on how the House would operate in the event Senate Democrats shut down the government.” And the Obama administration advised government agencies to take the proper steps to prepare for a shutdown.
In a memo to agency officials, the deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget, Jeffrey Zients, urged agency heads to refine and update contingency plans in the event negotiators don’t strike a deal by Friday’s deadline. The memo was first reported by The Washington Post.
Boehner has already orchestrated action by Congress to pass a pair of stopgap bills, so far cutting $10 billion from an estimated $1.2 trillion budget to fund the day-to-day operations of government through Sept. 30.
A one-week measure that cuts an additional $12 billion could reassure 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’s no visible movement on an impasse over GOP policy riders attacking Obama’s health care and financial reform laws, cutting taxpayer funds to Planned Parenthood 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.”
Meanwhile, the GOP’s decade-long plan far exceeds the $1 trillion-plus reduction outlined in Obama’s February budget plan and is on par with recommendations released by Obama’s own bipartisan deficit commission in December.
Still, despite cuts already deemed draconian by Democrats, Ryan’s plan can’t claim a balanced budget by the end of the decade because of promises to not increase taxes or change federal retirement benefits for people 55 and over.
Ryan will officially release his plan Tuesday morning but outlined its core elements in a Sunday television interview. It 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 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 and transform it into a block grant program that gives governors far less money than under current estimates, but considerably more flexibility.
GOP officials requiring anonymity to discuss the budget before its release Tuesday said more than $1 trillion in savings would come from Medicaid.
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.
Copyright © 2011 The Associated Press