- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Hours after convening a bipartisan meeting with Hill leaders, a visibly irritated President Obama on Tuesday said Congress should be able to strike a deal on this year’s budget without his supervision, but he nevertheless vowed to summon both parties back to the White House on Wednesday if the impasse persists.

The comments, which Mr. Obama made in a surprise appearance in the briefing room, marked a shift in the president’s handling of the congressional stalemate over how much to cut from current spending levels.

At least publicly, the president had taken a hands-off approach to the negotiations until now, limiting his involvement to phone calls with leaders and dispatching Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. to the Capitol on his behalf.

Saying the American people “don’t like these games,” Mr. Obama argued that Democrats are willing to accept $33 billion in cuts from 2010 spending, and said it is time for the GOP to accept that they won’t get their ultimate goal of $61 billion.

“I shouldn’t have to oversee a process in which Congress deals with last year’s budget, where we only have six months left, especially when both parties have agreed that we need to make substantial cuts and we’re more or less at the same number,” he told reporters.

It’s unclear how much progress was made at the morning meeting, which also involved House Speaker John A. Boehner, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and top appropriators from both chambers. Mr. Obama said Mr. Boehner was meeting with Mr. Reid later Tuesday to discuss the situation.

“The speaker apparently didn’t want our team involved in that discussion. That’s fine. If they can sort it out, then we’ve got more than enough to do. If they can’t sort it out, then I want them back here tomorrow,” Mr. Obama said.

Asked whether he would sign another short-term spending bill to avoid a government shutdown after the deadline passes this weekend, Mr. Obama said such bills are no way to run a government.

“We are now at the point where there’s no excuse to extend this further,” he said, adding that he would agree to a two- or three-day extension only in the event Congress can’t get its paperwork through fast enough.

As for the composition of the cuts, Mr. Obama didn’t offer many details of what cuts he would like to see, though he said he would be willing to sacrifice some money for Pell Grants by cutting them out for summer school, for example.

Mr. Obama stopped short of explicitly threatening to veto any spending bills that contain unrelated policy “riders” such as amendments to cut funding for Planned Parenthood or limit the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to regulate greenhouse-gas emissions. But he said the spending bill should not be used “as a vehicle for every ideological or political difference between the two parties.”

The president said there’s no reason the two sides shouldn’t be able to strike an agreement in time.

“We can’t control earthquakes; we can’t control tsunamis; we can’t control uprisings on the other side of the world. What we can control is our capacity to have a reasoned, fair conversation between the parties and get the business of the American people done,” he said.

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