Biden takes on budget impasse, meets with congressional leaders today

By Perry Bacon Jr.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 3, 2011; 12:10 PM

Can Vice President Biden cut another deal with the Republicans?

The vice president, much-maligned at times for his penchant for saying the wrong thing, negotiated the December tax agreement with the GOP that both forestalled a tax increase for millions of Americans and gave President Obama a brief spike in the polls.

Now, Obama has dispatched Biden to work with the Republicans on an even more complicated issue: the federal budget for the rest of the year.

Criticized by Democrats, Republicans and even the press for not leading enough on the spending negotiations, Obama on Wednesday announced Biden, White House Chief of Staff William Daley and White House Budget Director Jacob Lew would start meeting with leaders of both parties to reach long-term budget agreement.

Biden will meet with congressional leaders from both parties Thursday afternoon. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) are slated to huddle with Biden, White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley and Office of Management and Budget Director Jack Lew at 4 p.m. in the Capitol.

Biden served on Capitol Hill for more than 36 years and has friendly relationships with many Republicans there.

But the issues now are completely different than December. The agreement Biden and McConnell reached then was filled with deficit-busting goodies for both sides: tax cuts for lower-, average-, and upper-income Americans; increased benefits for the unemployed that Democrats wanted; and cuts in the estate tax pushed for by the GOP. Now the two sides are trying to figure out how much to cut.

Democrats controlled the House then. Now, Biden is not only negotiating with a newly empowered group of House Republican leaders, but with a class of freshmen GOP lawmakers who came to Washington determined to cut spending.

And the two sides are not particularly close. Last month House Republicans approved a measure cutting $61 billion. Thus far, the White House has found $8 billion to cut.

"The President has not laid out what his vision is, and frankly Harry Reid and the Democrats in the Senate have not for once even posited what their position is," House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) told CNN Wednesday night.

Biden's intervention comes as the White House is becoming more engaged in the process. After being vague about exactly what a compromise would look like, the White House in the last two days has criticized the kind of short-term resolution that Congress approved Wednesday, arguing short-term measures are bad for the economy because they cause uncertainty.

"We cannot keep doing business this way," Obama said.

The shift comes after Boehner said Monday that Obama should have done more, and two days later Reid, an Obama ally, sidestepped a question about whether the administration had been doing enough before this week.

White House officials privately do not believe a government shutdown would be a political boon to them as it was for President Bill Clinton in the 1990s. They expect both parties would be blamed for the disruption and it would hurt the economy, which they view as the biggest concern for most Americans and for next year's elections.

So enter Biden into what is another "big [expletive] deal," as the vice president might say.

Obama today

The president will meet with Mexico President Felipe Calderón and meet with his top national security aides to discuss Afghanistan. He will hold a brief news conference after the Calderón meeting.

Staff writer Felicia Sonmez also contributed to this report.

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