White House, lawmakers hold first spending summit
WASHINGTON — US Vice President Joe Biden and top lawmakers held their first closed-door talks on government spending cuts, seeking elusive common ground with just two weeks to reach a deal.
Neither side announced any breakthrough after the hour-long negotiations at the US Capitol, and the White House only released a terse statement from Biden saying: “We had a good meeting, and the conversation will continue.”
All sides say the ballooning US deficit and swelling US debt pose a long-term economic risk and agree in principle on the need to cut spending — but are far apart on how much to slash, and from what programs.
And a new poll by NBC television and the Wall Street Journal found that more Americans want their government to focus on jobs — 56 percent — than on bringing down the deficit — 40 percent.
Biden met with Republican House Speaker John Boehner and Republican Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, as well as Democratic House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Obama late Wednesday signed a Republican-drafted stopgap spending measure to fund government operations through March 18 while slicing $4 billion in outlays in a bid to buy time for a longer deal to cover the rest of the fiscal year than ends September 30.
The White House and Congress must reach a deal by the two-week mark unless they approve another short-term measure, or face the prospects of a partial government shutdown.
The Republican House majority recently passed a long-term spending bill with 61 billion dollars in cuts from current spending, which comes out to 100 billion down from Obama’s proposed budget for 2011, which was never enacted.
Ahead of the talks, top White House economic advisor Gene Sperling told reporters that Obama was willing to cut another 6.5 billion dollars but declined to spell out the programs that would be affected.
“We’ve made clear that we are willing to cut spending further if we can find common ground on cuts that we can all agree would help reduce the deficit without harming the economy in the short term or harming our long-term competitiveness,” said Sperling.
Biden made the only post-meeting statement by agreement of all of the parties, a source said, and it was unclear when a second round would occur.