If approved, the deal would be the largest single-year budget cut in U.S. history.
Lawmakers in both parties are eager to reach such a compromise, which would fund the government through the end of the fiscal year, in September, and end a series of stopgap spending resolutions that have kept Washington operating a few weeks at a time since last fall. The current short-term measure will expire April 8, and congressional leaders have said they don’t want to pass another one.
The two sides have already agreed on $10 billion in cuts; now, the House and Senate appropriations committees are searching for an additional $23 billion to extract from the budget, according to lawmakers and aides from both parties.
“We’re going to try to find some common ground,” House Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers (R-Ky.) told reporters. “It’s going to take some time. . . . [But] the leadership has said for us to get started.”
Congressional leaders cautioned that no final deal has been reached. The talks could break down over disputes about how much to cut and from where.
“There have been discussion for weeks, and those discussions are continuing,” said Michael Steel, a spokesman for House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio). “There’s no agreement, and nothing will be agreed to until everything is agreed to.”
Boehner on Thursday dismissed reports that agreement on a number had been reached.
“You’ve heard a lot of talk over the last 24 hours,” Boehner said at a Capitol news conference. “There is no agreement on numbers. Nothing will be agreed to until everything is agreed to.”
He emphasized that House Republicans will continue to push for greater cuts, although he noted that their leverage remains limited because they retain the majority in only one chamber of Congress.
“We control one-half of one-third of the government here, but we’re going to continue to fight for largest spending cuts that we can get and to keep the government open and funded through the balance of this fiscal year,” Boehner said.
Some conservative House Republicans — led by freshmen who came to Washington on a promise to shrink the government — have said they would vote against any proposal that falls short of the $61 billion in reductions the House approved on a party-line vote last month. Senate Democrats immediately rejected that measure.
Spending cuts are not the only issue up for negotiation. As part of their initial budget package, Republicans included unrelated amendments, called “riders,” that would impose restrictions on federal agencies. Democrats have objected to many of them, including one that would prohibit federal funding to Planned Parenthood and another that would weaken the Environmental Protection Agency’s power to regulate carbon emissions.