- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Racing a Friday deadline to avert a government shutdown, President Obama met late Wednesday with top congressional negotiators and said afterward that he is “confident” a spending deal can be finalized in time.

House Speaker John A. Boehner, the top Republican who met with Mr. Obama, said there is still no agreement on an overall dollar amount for spending cuts, or on what legislative add-ons will be included in any final spending deal. But all sides agreed their staffs would continue working after the high-level White House meeting.

“What they did was narrow the issues and clarify the issues that are still outstanding,” Mr. Obama told reporters afterward. “I remain confident that if we’re serious about getting something done, we should be able to complete a deal and get it passed and avert a shutdown.”

Government funding expires at midnight Friday, and Democrats and Republicans are sparring over how to fund the government for the rest of fiscal 2011, which runs through Sept. 30.

Republicans want deep cuts, which they say will spur the economy, while Democrats argue those cuts could hurt the economic recovery and gut important government services.

Negotiations have been ongoing for weeks, and both sides are narrowing on a range of possible spending cuts. But in recent days those talks appeared to have faltered.

Given the pace, Mr. Obama, who after an earlier hands-off approach has gotten more involved this week, called Mr. Boehner and the top Democrat, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, to the White House for the late-night meeting.

Mr. Boehner, speaking to reporters after the president, said neither side wants a shutdown, but agreed there had been some slow movement.

“We do have some honest differences, but I do think we made some progress. But I want to reiterate, there’s no agreement on a number and there’s no agreement on policy riders,” he said.

House Republicans have passed a bill that cuts an additional $51 billion from 2010 spending levels. Democrats have said they are willing to accept an additional $23 billion in cuts.

The House is also seeking to attach some “policy riders,” such as halting funding for implementation of health care and environmental rules, or stopping federal spending on Planned Parenthood.

With a shutdown looming, House Republicans have prepared another week-long deadline extension, which they said they would pass on Thursday. But Mr. Obama and Mr. Reid have been sour on that idea, insisting the full-year deal be completed.