Obama invites congressional leaders to meet with Biden on budget

Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, March 2, 2011; 10:41 PM

President Obama on Wednesday intervened in a partisan brawl that threatens to shut down the government, inviting congressional leaders of both parties to sit down with Vice President Biden and work out a compromise to fund federal programs through the end of the fiscal year.

The president reached out to lawmakers after the Senate approved a stopgap measure to keep the government open through March 18. The resolution, which passed 91 to 9, will give legislators extra time to negotiate the longer-term deal. Obama signed the measure Wednesday afternoon.

The stopgap bill eliminates $4 billion in spending by cutting programs Obama had already targeted - a far less ambitious measure than House Republicans wanted. But with the clock ticking toward a Friday deadline and polls showing the public strongly opposed to a shutdown, GOP leaders were willing to make concessions.

In a joint news conference after the Senate vote, House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told reporters that Republicans would go no further until Senate Democrats offered a counter-proposal to the $61 billion package of cuts that the House approved in late February.

Obama said in a statement that he would enlist Biden, White House Chief of Staff William M. Daley and budget director Jacob J. Lew to meet with congressional leaders. They could sit down as early as Thursday. Biden is scheduled to leave Sunday for a week-long trip to Finland, Russia and Moldova.

"I'm pleased that Democrats and Republicans in Congress came together and passed a plan that will cut spending and keep the government running for the next two weeks. But we cannot keep doing business this way," Obama said after the Senate approved the resolution. "Living with the threat of a shutdown every few weeks is not responsible, and it puts our economic progress in jeopardy."

Lawmakers face deep partisan divisions as they attempt to tackle the nation's fiscal problems.

Five Senate Republicans, three Democrats and one independent voted against Wednesday's stopgap measure. The Republicans - Orrin G. Hatch (Utah), Mike Lee (Utah), Rand Paul (Ky.), James E. Risch (Idaho) and Mike Crapo (Idaho) - are staunch conservatives. Lee and Paul were elected in November with strong tea party support. They don't think the Senate bill cuts nearly enough.

Lee called the legislation "a disappointing failure on the part of both parties to seriously address the economic meltdown we face from our massive deficit and growing national debt."

Meanwhile, the Democrats - Tom Harkin (Iowa), Carl Levin (Mich.) and Patty Murray (Wash.), along with independent Bernard Sanders (Vt.) - are liberals who worry about cutting too much.

"I have no problem making intelligent, judicious cuts," Sanders said. But, he added, "the road to fiscal responsibility has got to include raising revenue."

Some congressional leaders expressed frustration that short-term funding measures have become routine in recent years.

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