- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 2, 2011

Wading directly into the spending negotiations on Capitol Hill for the first time in weeks, President Obama on Saturday afternoon called the top Republican and top Democrat in Congress, telling them he supports a deal cutting another $23 billion from last year’s spending levels.

In calls to House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, Mr. Obama also said time is running short, according to a White House statement recounting the calls.

Mr. Boehner, in Republicans’ weekly radio address Saturday, said there is no final spending agreement but added Republicans’ pressure has pushed Democrats to cut deeper than they wanted.

“We’ve made some early progress. This year, the federal government will spend at least $51 billion less than it would have if the president had gotten his way,” he said. “And because we’ve kept the pressure on, Democrats in the White House and the Senate are being forced to talk about a bill that would cut tens of billions more.”

The 2011 budget Mr. Obama submitted had called for about $40 billion in spending increases, but bolstered by last year’s elections the GOP has pushed for cuts. Congress this year has passed two bills cutting $10 billion from 2010 levels, and Democrats say they’re willing to cut at least $20 billion more.

The president for the most past has kept out of the negotiations, instead at various times detailing his vice president, his chief of staff and his budget director. The White House did not say why the president chose this moment to get more involved.

Current funding expires April 8 and all sides have said they oppose yet another short-term stopgap bill to extend the deadline further. If no agreement is reached and no short-term measure passed, many government operations will shut down.

Even with that deadline looming, the Senate left for a three-day weekend on Thursday after holding just one roll call vote last week.

The House left Friday after passing a bill to resend their original $61 billion in spending cuts to the Senate, which rejected those cuts last month. House Republican leaders pushed the bill through the chamber using parliamentary tactics similar to ones they had decried last year when Democrats controlled the House.

Asked Friday why he was leaving town with the deadline looming, Mr. Boehner told reporters that the House and Senate spending committees were working through the weekend to try to hammer out a deal, and his presence wasn’t needed.

“Others are involved in other conversations, and I think that we want to see how this weekend goes,” Mr. Boehner told reporters.

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