In the game of chicken (or is it Russian roulette?) that could have as its outcome a partial shutdown of the federal government, President Obama has invited Congress' two top leaders — Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and Senate Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) back to the White House for more negotiations early Thursday afternoon.
The two will return to the White House a little more than 12 hours after they left it without reaching any agreement to bridge the gap between the Democratic and Republican positions.
Aides of the two leaders and the president worked into the wee hours on details of a potential bargain but to no avail. No agreement to avert the first partial shutdown of the federal government in 16 years was reached.
That led Sen. Harry Reid to say on the Senate floor Thursday morning that he was feeling less upbeat than he felt Wednesday. Reid said the sides had neared agreement on the size of spending cuts in any legislation to fund the government for the remainder of fiscal 2011 which ends in September.
The sticking point, Reid said, was more the ideology embodied in the the policy riders that would ban taxpayer funding of Planned Parenthood and bar the Environmental Protection Agency from enforcing clean air rules.
"... The numbers are basically there. But I am not nearly as optimistic, and that's an understatement as I was 11 hours ago. The numbers are extremely close. Our differences are no longer over how much savings we get from government spending. The only thing, the only thing, holding up an agreement is ideology."
Meanwhile, the Republican-led House took up a another new continuing spending resolution that would fund the federal government for another week, the exception being the military which would be funded for the rest of the year.
That would provide service members with the assurance that they would receive their paychecks without fail.
The legislation would also cut $12 billion in additional money from fiscal year 2011 spending, the current year which ends in September.
Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC) who opened the Republican side of the debate on the legislation said:
"The time has now come for the hapless liberal Democrats elites in the Senate and the White House to make a decision. It's time to decide between acting responsibly, abandoning favorite political alliances, and continuing their failed big-government policies as a solution to all earthly problems."
The legislation is expected to pass in the House. But the Democratic-controlled Senate and President Obama have said it's a non-starter. Democrats are insisting on a spending bill that funds government activities for the balance of the fiscal year since the government has been operating for more than half a year on a series of short-term spending bills.
Short of that, Reid said he might consider one more short-term spending bill that would give negotiators more time to work out a longer-term deal so long as it was "clean" meaning no spending cuts or policy riders. Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.